Open Letter to the WHO about Medicago’s Plant-Produced COVID Vaccine

Recently, the WHO announced that

“A plant-based Covid-19 vaccine developed by Canadian pharmaceutical firm Medicago “very likely won’t be accepted” for emergency use approval by the World Health Organization because Medicago is partially owned by cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris International”.

Frankly, this is absurd, given the potential of Medicago’s vaccine for being affordable for LMICs, let alone more easily transportable and storable. I wrote this at the time:

“The possible banning or boycotting by the WHO of Medicago’s SARS-CoV-2 vaccine made in a weedy relative of tobacco would be a travesty: while Medicago Inc may be part owned – a minority share – by Philip Morris International, a well-known tobacco products manufacturer, their product in no way furthers or promotes the use of tobacco for any other purpose than for making vaccines. Moreover, their revolutionary technology allows the manufacture of vaccines cheaper and more quickly than any other protein-based version, and would allow access by LMICs to products that have hitherto not been available.

It is truly ridiculous that the WHO could contemplate spurning a genuinely innovative and potentially life-saving product from a pioneering and altruistic company that HAPPENS to be part-owned by a tobacco company. This may be the best thing Philip Morris ever did – they are not even the majority owner of the company, but have contributed to a small extent to something that would save lives the world over, and especially in developing countries, IF it were to be approved by the WHO for COVAX. As a developing country scientist myself, who works in the area of molecular farming, or production of vaccines in plants, I can only applaud Medicago’s achievement – and deplore the small-mindedness of the WHO in spurning the product.”

This issue has sufficiently outraged members of the international plant molecular farming community, who have a great deal of insight into the issue, that Professor Julian Ma has written a letter on our behalf with very considerable support from international experts.

Link to letter

It is to be hoped that this will have an effect: please distribute this as widely as you can, and ask folk to forward their comments to the same address as Julian has used.

Here are the signatories:

La luta continua!


Edward P Rybicki, PhD
Director, Biopharming Research Unit
University of Cape Town

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