Breaking News
Get 40% Off 0
Is NVDA a 🟢 buy or 🔴 sell? Unlock Now

Medicago's tobacco ties jeopardize growth of its COVID shot

Published Mar 27, 2022 07:16AM ET Updated Mar 28, 2022 06:01AM ET
Saved. See Saved Items.
This article has already been saved in your Saved Items
2/2 © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The leaves of a Nicotiana benthamiana plant is pictured at Medicago greenhouse in Quebec City, August 13, 2014. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger 2/2
Add to/Remove from Watchlist
Add to Watchlist
Add Position

Position added successfully to:

Please name your holdings portfolio
Add to/Remove from Watchlist
Add to Watchlist
Add Position

Position added successfully to:

Please name your holdings portfolio

By Amruta Khandekar and Mrinalika Roy

(Reuters) -Canadian vaccine maker Medicago's COVID-19 vaccine, approved last month in Canada, is facing limited growth in the near-term after the World Health Organization said it would not review the vaccine because the company is partly owned by U.S.-Swiss tobacco company Philip Morris (NYSE:PM), health experts say.

The WHO said at a briefing this month and in a follow-up statement to Reuters that it has not accepted an application for the vaccine because of its 2005 public health treaty requiring no involvement with any company that produces or promotes tobacco-based products.

Canada, which has provided millions of dollars in development funding to the company and has agreed to buy up to 76 million doses, defended its authorization of the vaccine, saying it needs a domestic bio-manufacturing industry to prepare for future pandemics.

Health Canada said it believes it is in compliance with the WHO tobacco treaty.

The WHO tobacco treaty "does not preclude the Government of Canada from working with Medicago on vaccine development and procurement to ensure that a ready and effective supply of vaccines is available for its population," a Health Canada spokesperson told Reuters.

Experts say a WHO authorization is key because the vaccine can then be part of the COVAX global vaccine program for low- and middle-income countries. While much of the developed world has already been vaccinated, Africa is still in desperate need of vaccines. WHO's approval can also stand in for countries that do not have their own drug regulatory agencies.

The company has also pitched the platform as easily adaptable for new vaccines should there be a next pandemic. It is developing flu vaccines on the platform as well.

"I think that the WHO standards are going to pose a barrier to the uptake of the vaccine," said Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Medicago would now need to approach European and U.S. regulators as well as any other individual countries one by one to attain approvals, a more difficult but not impossible barrier to use, Adalja said.


Medicago said it is in discussions with other potential customers worldwide.

The company has started the filing process for approval of its COVID-19 vaccine with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Medicago Chief Executive Officer Takashi Nagao said in an emailed statement.

The company has also started an early-to-mid stage study of the shot in Japan, and plans to file for regulatory approval in the spring, Nagao said.

It said it has not received an official communication from the WHO, but believed the decision was linked to its minority shareholder and not the safety and efficacy profile of its COVID-19 vaccine.

Swiss-American tobacco giant Philip Morris owns a 21% stake in the Quebec company. Japan's Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma, a unit of Mitsubishi Chemical Holding Corp, owns the rest of Medicago.

Canadian health group Quebec Coalition for Tobacco Control this week called on Canada to demand that Medicago replace Philip Morris as a stakeholder due to its tobacco business. Philip Morris has had a stake in the company since 2008.

A Philip Morris spokesperson said that the WHO's position was in opposition to its own call to accelerate vaccinations around the world.

"Emergency use authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine has absolutely nothing to do with tobacco control," the spokesperson said. "WHO policies should focus on accelerating medical progress and innovation."

Medicago’s Covifenz is the only authorized COVID-19 vaccine that is plant-based. To make the vaccine, the company uses nicotiana benthamiana, a cousin of the tobacco plant, as small bioreactors, growing non-infectious virus like particles that mimic the coronavirus. It is given with a boosting compound from British drugmaker Glaxosmithkline (LON:GSK).

The United States and Europe, which already have several vaccines cleared for use, may still want Medicago's shot because of its plant-based technology, which would be useful to create a vaccine against the next problematic pathogen, according to Prashant Yadav, lecturer and supply chain expert at Harvard Medical School.

Medicago's tobacco ties jeopardize growth of its COVID shot

Related Articles

Add a Comment

Comment Guidelines

We encourage you to use comments to engage with other users, share your perspective and ask questions of authors and each other. However, in order to maintain the high level of discourse we’ve all come to value and expect, please keep the following criteria in mind:  

  •            Enrich the conversation, don’t trash it.

  •           Stay focused and on track. Only post material that’s relevant to the topic being discussed. 

  •           Be respectful. Even negative opinions can be framed positively and diplomatically. Avoid profanity, slander or personal attacks directed at an author or another user. Racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination will not be tolerated.

  • Use standard writing style. Include punctuation and upper and lower cases. Comments that are written in all caps and contain excessive use of symbols will be removed.
  • NOTE: Spam and/or promotional messages and comments containing links will be removed. Phone numbers, email addresses, links to personal or business websites, Skype/Telegram/WhatsApp etc. addresses (including links to groups) will also be removed; self-promotional material or business-related solicitations or PR (ie, contact me for signals/advice etc.), and/or any other comment that contains personal contact specifcs or advertising will be removed as well. In addition, any of the above-mentioned violations may result in suspension of your account.
  • Doxxing. We do not allow any sharing of private or personal contact or other information about any individual or organization. This will result in immediate suspension of the commentor and his or her account.
  • Don’t monopolize the conversation. We appreciate passion and conviction, but we also strongly believe in giving everyone a chance to air their point of view. Therefore, in addition to civil interaction, we expect commenters to offer their opinions succinctly and thoughtfully, but not so repeatedly that others are annoyed or offended. If we receive complaints about individuals who take over a thread or forum, we reserve the right to ban them from the site, without recourse.
  • Only English comments will be allowed.
  • Any comment you publish, together with your profile, will be public on and may be indexed and available through third party search engines, such as Google.

Perpetrators of spam or abuse will be deleted from the site and prohibited from future registration at’s discretion.

Write your thoughts here
Are you sure you want to delete this chart?
Post also to:
Replace the attached chart with a new chart ?
Your ability to comment is currently suspended due to negative user reports. Your status will be reviewed by our moderators.
Please wait a minute before you try to comment again.
Thanks for your comment. Please note that all comments are pending until approved by our moderators. It may therefore take some time before it appears on our website.
Comments (1)
John Laurens
John Laurens Mar 28, 2022 7:07AM ET
Saved. See Saved Items.
This comment has already been saved in your Saved Items
WHO is a complete joke anyway. No need to listen to them again. Zero credibility.
Are you sure you want to delete this chart?
Replace the attached chart with a new chart ?
Your ability to comment is currently suspended due to negative user reports. Your status will be reviewed by our moderators.
Please wait a minute before you try to comment again.
Add Chart to Comment
Confirm Block

Are you sure you want to block %USER_NAME%?

By doing so, you and %USER_NAME% will not be able to see any of each other's's posts.

%USER_NAME% was successfully added to your Block List

Since you’ve just unblocked this person, you must wait 48 hours before renewing the block.

Report this comment

I feel that this comment is:

Comment flagged

Thank You!

Your report has been sent to our moderators for review
Continue with Google
Sign up with Email