Public Health

Thailand’s Baiya Phytopharm working on herbal Covid vaccine

Thailand’s Baiya Phytopharm aims to develop the country’s first herbal Covid vaccine.

The 2018 by Dr. Suthira Taychakhoonavudh and Dr. Waranyoo Phoolcharoen is working on a vaccine made from 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” by transforming Thailand from a vaccine importer into a vaccine manufacturer.

Baiya is the first Thai company to join the university’s CU Innovation Hub, a research hub for start-ups, to develop technology to produce recombinant proteins that can make drugs and vaccines.

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

The company completed Phase 1 human trials of its herbal Covid vaccine in December last year. There are no herbal Covid vaccines anywhere, although at least one more is in development alongside Baiya’s.

“So far we know that… all the volunteers are safe. And when we look at the safety profile, we’re very happy with it,” Suthira said.

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

The drug company expects Phase 2 trials to start in February and Phase 3 trials in June. It hopes to submit data on the approval of the vaccine to Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration by the third or fourth quarter of this year.

The company said it could quickly increase its production capacity if the vaccine were approved.

“Currently, our facilities can produce about five million doses of vaccine per month, which translates to about 60 million doses of vaccine per year,” Suthira said.

She added that the same manufacturing facilities will be able to produce vaccines not only for Thailand but also for the region.

Baiya wants to show that Thailand “can invent new vaccines and new drugs to address its own public health problems,” she said. The company uses the same tobacco plant to develop cancer drugs and anti-aging treatments.

As a start-up, Baiya is still not making any money, but Suthira said the goal is not to maximize profits but to build a credible research industry in Thailand that will attract next-generation talent.

“And we want to make pharmaceutical products that we manufacture an affordable product,” Suthira said, not only for Thais but also for others who don’t have access to medicines.

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