Philip Morris-backed group will launch the first plant-based Covid vaccine

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A division of a Japanese company backed by Philip Morris International is planning to launch the world’s first plant-based Covid-19 vaccine, which may be cheaper and easier to transport and store than traditional vaccines.

Toshifumi Tada, Head of Vaccine Business Development Mitsubishi Tanabe PharmaceuticalSaid that its subsidiary Medicago will apply for Canada to approve its vaccine candidate made from tobacco family plants before the end of this year.

The Osaka-based pharmaceutical group expects that with the continuous emergence of new virus strains, the global demand for coronavirus vaccines will remain strong, thereby making it a chance Enter a market dominated by leaders such as Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca.

“Like seasonal flu, we don’t expect demand to [for Covid-19 vaccines] Suddenly disappeared, and there is still a lot of uncertainty about the newly emerging variants,” Tada said. “We believe there is value in expanding vaccine options. “

No plant vaccine is approved for use in humans. But proponents of the technology say the vaccine is attractive because the plant leaves grow rapidly, shortening the manufacturing process and reducing costs. They added that faster production also makes it easier to adapt to new strains.

Although the traditional seasonal flu vaccine takes about eight months to a year to produce, the vaccine developed by Medicago, which is 25% owned by the tobacco group Philip Morris, can be produced in five to eight weeks.

Plant-based vaccines do not require deep freezing during transportation, because Medicago’s vaccines can be stored at temperatures between 2C and 8C.

Medicago has tested 24,000 subjects in North and South America

Tada also said that plant-based vaccines are considered relatively safe for humans because the technology forms virus-like particles that can mimic the target virus without actually using live viruses.

Medicago, which is cooperating with GlaxoSmithKline to develop adjuvants, is analyzing data from the Phase 3 trial of the Covid-19 vaccine, involving 24,000 subjects in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico.Also started on a small scale Clinical trials in Japan this month, It hopes to apply for regulatory approval before March.

According to the test results, no serious side effects related to its candidate vaccine have been reported.

Nevertheless, new entrants such as Medicago may find it difficult to convince the public, and the public may be more inclined to trust well-known vaccines. Since plant vaccines have never been produced on a large scale, Tada also admitted that Medicago still has work to do in stabilizing its manufacturing process.

The company plans to produce vaccines at its plant in North Carolina, where it is expected to produce approximately 80 million doses of vaccine. Once its new plant in Quebec City, Canada starts operations in 2024, it is expected to increase its annual production capacity to 1 billion doses.

Due to government funding shortages and regulatory obstacles in development and testing, Japanese pharmaceutical groups lag behind global competitors in developing a local Covid-19 vaccine. Compared with Western countries, the complexity of conducting large-scale clinical trials with fewer coronavirus cases makes these difficulties even more complicated.

“The Japanese government is aware of the challenges faced by Japanese companies,” Tada said. “But since Medicago has conducted global trials, we think it is feasible to apply these data to development [of a Covid-19 vaccine] In Japan. ”

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