World’s First Plant-Based Covid Vaccine “Covifenz” Approved by Canada

Becoming the first country to approve the plant-based Covid-19 vaccine Covifenz, Canada sets the first milestone for a cost-effective approach to vaccine development.

Canada-based biopharma company Medicago, which is part-funded by Philip Morris International (PMI), announced the development of a plant-based Covid-19 vaccine in 2020. Following the news of positive Phase 3 results in December 2021, Canada has approved the world’s first plant-based Covid-19 vaccine, which could be a guiding step in optimising vaccine technology.  

Leader in plant-based vaccines

Operating under the slogan “Health is in our nature”, Medicago describes itself as a pioneer and leader in the development of plant-based vaccines. The vaccine development process uses living plants that are used as bioreactors to produce non-infectious particles mimicking the covid virus.

Just as the dominant vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna, Covifenz is a two-shot dose that was found to be effective in clinical trials. However, while having a 71% efficacy against Delta and Gamma variants of Covid-19, another version against the Omicron variant is currently in development.

Approved for adults aged 18 to 64, the Canadian government states on its website that “the Covid-19 plant-based vaccine is held to high safety, effectiveness and quality standards.”

Why the Covid-19 plant-based vaccine matters

According to the World Health Organization, plant-based vaccines have several benefits, including comparatively cheap production and scalability. Moreover, the WHO claims the probability of contamination by a plant virus and resulting adverse effects on humans to be almost negligible.

Plant-based vaccines are highly attractive and have the potential to accelerate development processes. Fighting new viruses in the future, plant-based vaccines might outperform traditional vaccines due to shorter and more effective manufacturing processes.

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Another plant-based Covid vaccine in development

Founded in 2018, Thailand-based Baiya Phytopharm is currently developing the country’s first plant-based Covid-19 vaccine using Australian tobacco plants.

As reported by CNBC, the pharmaceutical startup expects its Phase 3 trials to start in June and hopes to get approval from the Thai Food and Drug Administration by Q3 of 2022.

In the context of future virus control with vaccines, rapid development is going to be fundamental. Plant-based vaccine technologies could play a key role in optimising vaccine technology, as assistant professor Dr Suthira Taychakhoonavudh, chief executive of Baiya Phytopharm, emphasized in a statement sent to Sky News in January: “It takes only 10 days for us to produce a prototype and… no more than three weeks to test whether that prototype works or not. For example, right now, we are already working on the Omicron strains. We have the prototype and we’re testing it right now.”

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