One bio-pharmaceutical company is researching new ways to fight the flu, and it’s using an unlikely ingredient: the tobacco plant.
Canada-based Medicago is studying ways to engineer tobacco plants that produce the flu vaccine.
“It's something very, very new and it's something very, very unique,” said Charles Bryant, greenhouse manager for Medicago.
The plants are submerged in genetically engineered bacteria and then placed in a vacuum environment.
“It draws in the agrobacterium, and then the agrobacterium expands in the plant and that becomes the virus-like particle that is the vaccine,” said Mike Wanner, executive vice president of operations for Medicago USA.
Traditionally, flu vaccines come from chicken eggs. Each egg produces about four doses.
Wanner said that each tobacco plant could make many more — between 30 and 100 doses.
The company is testing the plant-based vaccine on different flu strains. It has produced strong immune responses in humans, Wanner said.
If the tests are satisfactory, the vaccines could be on the market as early as 2016. Researchers said that plants could also make a variety of other vaccines, including one for rabies.