Japanese pharmaceutical group Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma is planning to launch the first-ever plant-based Covid-19 vaccine in the world, which will likely to be of low-cost, easier to transport as well as store than the conventional jabs, the media reported.
The vaccine candidate will be developed by the Osaka-based company's subsidiary Medicago from a plant from the tobacco family by December 2021, the Financial Times reported.
The vaccine technology here is formed with virus-like particles that mimic the target virus and does not actually use a live virus, unlike some of the current vaccines and can thus be deemed relatively safe for humans.
With this new technique, the Japanese pharmaceutical group aims to break into a market which is dominated by major drugmakers Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca.
However, as new strains of the virus continue to emerge, they expect global demand for Covid vaccines to remain strong, the report noted.
"As with seasonal flu, we don't expect demand [for Covid-19 vaccines] to suddenly disappear and there is still much uncertainty regarding emerging variants," Toshifumi Tada, head of vaccine business development at Mitsubishi was quoted as saying.
"We believe there is value in expanding options for vaccines," Tada added.
So far, no plant-based vaccine has been approved for use in humans. But the prospects of such a jab seems viable as plant leaves grow quickly, cutting down the manufacturing process as well as costs.
Medicago's vaccine can be produced in five to eight weeks, compared to a traditional seasonal flu vaccine that takes about eight months to a year to produce.
Faster production, the report added, will also make it easier to adapt to combat new strains.
Moreover, plant-based vaccines do not need to be deep frozen during transport since Medicago's vaccine can be stored at temperatures of 2 degrees Celsius to 8 degrees Celsius, the report said.
Medicago is partnering with UK-based GlaxoSmithKline for the vaccine adjuvant, and is analysing phase-3 trial data for the Covid-19 vaccine involving 24,000 subjects in Canada, the US, the UK, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico.
It also began a smaller-scale clinical trial this month in Japan, where it hopes to apply for regulatory approval by March. No serious side-effects have been reported related to its vaccine candidate, according to trial results, the report said.
The company plans to produce about 80 million doses at its plant in North Carolina, US, and aims to raise its annual capacity to 1 billion doses, once its new plant in Quebec City, Canada, begins operations in 2024.