Nicotiana benthamiana.
Nicotiana benthamiana.
  • A Japanese drugmaker plans to submit data for a plant-based Covid-19 vaccine to Canadian regulators.
  • The vaccine is made using a relative of the tobacco plant.
  • Medicago, which is making the vaccine, is part-owned by tobacco giant Philip Morris International.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

The world's first plant-based Covid-19 vaccine could reach Canada's drug regulator by the end of the year.

Leading Japanese drugmaker Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma said on Tuesday that Medicago, its Quebec-based subsidiary that developed the shot, would apply for Canadian approval by the end of 2021, the Financial Times reported.

Marlboro cigarette brand manufacturer Philip Morris International part-owns Medicago, according to the Financial Times.

US market intelligence company Transparency Market Research predicted in September that the plant-based vaccine market, including non-Covid-19 vaccines, will be worth $2.34 billion (around R35 billion) by 2031.

A plant-based Covid-19 vaccine has never been approved before.

Toshifumi Tada, head of vaccine business development at Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma, told the Financial Times that there was "value in expanding options for vaccinesm" and said that, like seasonal flu, he didn't expect demand for Covid-19 vaccines to "suddenly disappear."

"There is still much uncertainty regarding emerging variants," Tada said, as per the Financial Times.

Medicago's plant-based Covid-19 vaccine has shown promise in trials.

Medicago said in May that, in a trial of 24,000 participants, those given its Covid-19 vaccine had 10 times as many antibodies as those who had previously caught Covid-19. The vaccine also gave no serious side effects in the study, it said.

The vaccine includes an adjuvant - an additive which enhances immune response - made by UK pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline, and was given as two doses, 21 days apart, Medicago said.

Medicago makes the plant-based vaccine by first inserting a genetic code into a bacteria. A close relative of the tobacco plant is then soaked in the modified bacteria. The code teaches the plant, Nicotiana benthamiana, to make a protein, which is then used in the vaccine, as per scientific journal Nature.

Its fast manufacturing time could cut costs and make it easy to adapt to emerging coronavirus variants: It takes five to six weeks for Medicago to produce a clinical-grade vaccine this way, compared to four to six months for traditional lab methods, Nathalie Charland, Medicago's senior director of scientific and medical affairs, told Nature

Plant-based vaccines also don't require the ultracold storage temperatures, unlike Moderna and Pfizer's Covid-19 shots.

Medicago said earlier this month that it planned to submit the vaccine to Japanese regulators by March 2022.

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