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A Thai Start-Up Is Working on A Covid Vaccine — Using Tobacco Leaves

Thailand’s Baiya Phytopharm wants to develop the country’s first plant-based Covid vaccine.

The start-up, founded by Dr. Suthira Taychakhoonavudh and Dr. Waranyoo Phoolcharoen in 2018, has been working on a vaccine using the leaves of an Australian tobacco plant.

Suthira, a 37-year-old lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, told CNBC’s “Managing Asia” that she and her team of scientists want to “make a difference” in changing Thailand from a vaccine importer to a vaccine maker.

Baiya is the first Thai company to enter the university’s CU Innovation Hub, a research center for start-ups, to develop technology to manufacture recombinant proteins that can produce medicines and vaccines.

The three-year-old start-up is funded by grants from the Chulalongkorn University Alumni and the Thai government. It also has raised some $3 million from a crowdfunding exercise.

The company completed phase one human trials of its plant-based Covid vaccine in December last year. No plant-based Covid vaccines exist anywhere, though at least one other besides Baiya’s is in development.

“So far, what we know is that … all the volunteers are safe. And looking at the safety profile, we are very happy with it,” said Suthira.

She added that it’s still too early to ascertain its efficacy rate, but the goal is to use available vaccines as a benchmark.

The pharmaceutical company says it expects phase two trials to start in February and phase three trials in June. It hopes to submit data to the Thai Food and Drug Administration for approval of the vaccine by the third or fourth quarter of this year. 

The company said it can quickly increase its production capacity if the vaccine is approved.

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Chula produces able graduates who become quality citizens for society.

Prof. Bundhit Eua-arporn President of Chulalongkorn University