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, is 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” by transforming Thailand from a vaccine importer to a vaccine manufacturer.
Baiya is the first Thai company to enter the university’s CU Innovation Hub, a research center for start-ups, to develop recombinant protein manufacturing technology that can produce drugs and vaccines.
The three-year-old startup is funded by grants from Chulalongkorn University alumni and the Thai government. He also raised some $3 million through a crowdfunding exercise.
The company completed phase one human trials of its plant-based Covid vaccine in December last year. No plant-based Covid vaccine exists anywhere, although at least one 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’re very happy with that,” Suthira said.
She added that it is still too early to determine its effectiveness rate, but the goal is to use available vaccines as a benchmark.
The drug company said it expects phase two trials to begin in February and phase three trials in June. It hopes to submit data to Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration for vaccine approval by the third or fourth quarter of this year.
The company said it could quickly increase production capacity if the vaccine is approved.
“Currently, our facilities can produce about five million doses of vaccines per month, or about 60 million doses of vaccines per year,” Suthira said.
She added that the same production facilities will be able to produce vaccines not only for Thailand but also for the region.
Baiya wants to demonstrate that Thailand can “invent new vaccines and new drugs to tackle 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 still isn’t making 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 the pharmaceuticals that we make affordable,” not only for Thais but also for those who don’t have access to drugs, Suthira said.