Thai company Baiya Phytopharm wants to develop the country’s first plant-based Covid vaccine.
A startup founded by Dr. Sutira Taichahunavud and Dr. Varanyu Phulcharoen in 2018 is working on a vaccine using the leaves of an Australian tobacco plant.
Suthira, a 37-year-old professor at Chulalongkorn University, told CNBC Governance Asia that she and her team of scientists want to “change the world for the better” by turning Thailand from a vaccine importer to a vaccine manufacturer.
Baiya is the first Thai company to be part of the university. Innovation Center of the Customs Union, a research center for start-ups, to develop technology for the production of recombinant proteins that can be used to produce drugs and vaccines.
The three-year-old startup is funded by alumni grants from Chulalongkorn University and the Thai government. He also raised about $3 million through crowdfunding.
Last December, the company completed the first phase of human trials of its plant-based Covid vaccine. There are no herbal vaccines for Covid anywhere, although at least another besides Baya is in development.
“So far, we know that… all volunteers are safe. And looking at the safety profile, we are very happy with it,” Sutira said.
She added that it is too early to establish the level of its effectiveness, but the goal is to use available vaccines as a benchmark.
The pharmaceutical company says it expects the second phase of the trial to begin in February and the third in June. He 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 its production capacity if a vaccine is approved.
“Currently, our facilities can produce about five million doses of vaccines per month, which is about 60 million doses of vaccines per year,” Sutira said.
She added that the same production facilities would be able to produce vaccines not only for Thailand, but for the entire region.
Baya wants to demonstrate that Thailand can “invent new vaccines and new drugs to solve public health problems,” she said. The company uses the same tobacco plant to develop anti-cancer and anti-aging drugs.
As a start-up, Baiya is still not profitable, but according to Sutira, the goal is not to maximize profits, but to build a robust research industry in Thailand that will attract talent from the next generation.
“And we want the pharmaceutical products we make to be affordable,” not only to Thais, but also to those who don’t have access to medicine, Sutira said.