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Good news on the COVID-19 vaccine front: A cure may be possible from tobacco leaves

India is working on 14 COVID-19 vaccines currently.

In a new development on the vaccine front, Oxford University's researchers are trying to develop a vaccine made with proteins from tobacco leaves. This is now ready for human tests.

Written by Jahnavi Sarma |Published : May 18, 2020 7:43 PM IST

With the COVID-19 pandemic showing no signs to disappearing in the near future, scientists are desperately trying to find a vaccine for the virus. There are many trials going on in different parts of the world. But there is no concrete evidence yet of any cure. The US firms Moderna and Novavax have already started their second phase of human trials and many other companies have also moved on to human trials. In a new development on the vaccine front, Oxford University's COVID-19 vaccine trial on rhesus macaques shows promise. Researchers are trying to develop a vaccine made with proteins from tobacco leaves. This is now ready for human tests.

This vaccine is being jointly developed by the University of Oxford and researchers from the US government's National Institutes of Health (NIH). Researchers are hopeful because they saw that it provided protection against COVID-19 in six rhesus macaques. It helped in producing antibodies capable of fighting the virus.

About the study

Researchers exposed a group of monkeys to the COVID-19 virus. Then they administered the vaccine to the infected monkeys. They saw that after this, the six monkeys had less of the virus in their lungs and airways. This gave them hope because rhesus macaques have immune systems that are similar to humans. The vaccine offered protection to the animals against pneumonia. Moreover, the monkeys also did not develop 'immune-enhanced disease', when the vaccine triggers a worse response to a disease.

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This vaccine is based on a small part of the virus's distinctive "spike". Researchers say that the idea behind the vaccine is that by getting the body to recognise a unique part of the virus, it will know how to react when it is exposed to the whole thing and produce the right antibodies to fight it off.

Other scientists also show an interest in tobacco

Meanwhile, British American Tobacco, the second largest manufacturer of cigarettes, has also recently claimed that their tobacco-based vaccine against Covid-19 was now ready for human trials after getting the requisite approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The firm said that its experimental vaccine produced a positive immune response in pre-clinical testing. This vaccine is based on an artificially built fragment of the novel coronavirus, called an "antigen". This antigen is inserted into tobacco plants for reproduction. Once the plants were harvested, the antigen is purified. The antigen can generate an immune response from the body when administered to human beings.

Earlier studies on effects of tobacco on COVID-19

Earlier research had spoken about the effect of nicotine on COVID-19 patients. Experts' interest was roused when data showed that smokers were less likely to be infected with the new variant of coronavirus that is currently ravaging the world. The general assumption was that it may be an effect of nicotine. In fact, some experts also advocated the use of nicotine patches on patients to save them from severe complications. But the researchers were also quick to add that this did not mean that they were saying people must start smoking as a preventive measure. Tobacco kills. But if a vaccine can be developed from the leaves of the plant, then it will bring hope to millions across the world.

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