Lizard blood and tobacco vaccines: meet Thailand’s contenders to fight COVID-19



If there is one thing we have learned from the pandemic, it is not to put all our eggs in one basket. Most countries have faced delays, shortages and disruptions in vaccine supply and Thailand is no exception. But as the country ramps up its deployment, with around 90% of Bangkok now trapped, local scientists are still struggling to produce their own vaccines to ensure a constant supply of booster vaccines when they might be needed. Here are some of the most promising Thai projects vying for a share of the vaccine market that could wipe out major brands.

Chulalongkorn mRNA vaccine

If approved, Chulalongkorn University’s Chula-Cov 19 vaccine would be the first mRNA vaccine developed and produced in Thailand, and possibly Southeast Asia. The university began Phase 2 trials on 150 volunteers last month after seeing promising results in the first phase. The vaccine, which uses the same technology as Pfizer and Moderna, tells the body to produce a protein which then triggers an immune response.

Kiat Ruxrungtham, who is leading the study, said the vaccine is able to induce a strong response in T cells, which fight the virus. The vaccine registered 94% effectiveness, Kiat says, putting it on par with other major mRNA shots. They believe he will be able to successfully suppress the four main strains of coronavirus: Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta. Kiat hopes the team’s vaccine can be approved for emergency use before April.

Baiya Phytopharm tobacco vaccine

Few plants have such a bad reputation as tobacco, but if the smart scientists at Baiya Phytopharm are successful, that could change. Founded in 2019 by Waranyoo Phoolcharoen, an assistant professor at the Department of Pharmaceutical Botany at Chulalongkorn, the company began making herbal ingredients for use in things like cosmetics before turning to vaccines soon after the pandemic. .

Phassorn Suwatsrisakul, project manager of Baiya, said that after a difficult start, the company is seeing encouraging results. “We did so many experiments and failed a lot, but then we managed to make antibody test kits and thought it would be good to take the next step and make a vaccine.”

The company’s vaccine, Subunit, is made from low-nicotine tobacco plants imported from Australia. At five weeks, the plant is injected with bacteria that carry the DNA of the coronavirus, triggering an immune response. Once it has produced as much protein as possible before succumbing to the virus, the protein is removed and used as the main ingredient in the vaccine.

One of the main features of Baiya’s vaccine is that it may have fewer side effects than an injection of mRNA. “The protein is not harmful. Our vaccine basically consists of the protein that the mRNA vaccine will produce, ”explains Phassorn. “With mRNA [vaccines], it has to turn into protein and the protein can activate your body to produce antibodies.

GPO vaccine

While the government is helping fund the efforts of Chulalongkorn and Baiya Phytopharm, it is also working on its own vaccine. The vaccine will be synthesized from egg protein and will use an inactivated strain of the virus. The Government Pharmaceutical Organization, along with Mahidol University and a US-based nonprofit, began testing its vaccine in humans in March 2020 and initiated the second phase on 250 volunteers aged 18 to 72. in August. It hopes to produce 30 million doses per year, starting in the middle of 2021.

Nasal spray

For those with needle phobia, relief might be just around the corner. The National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology is working on a vaccine that can be administered as a nasal spray, potentially offering an alternative to the “sharp scratch.”

The spray will work by penetrating the nose into the mucous membrane of the upper respiratory system where most viruses, including Covid-19, form and throughout the rest of the body. Human clinical trials in collaboration with the Chulabhorn Royal Academy are expected to begin at the end of the year, with manufacturing slated for mid-2022.

Lizard blood

No vaccine recap would be complete without a mention of one of the most experimental projects on the spectrum. Mahidol University professor Jitkamol Thanasak is currently conducting studies on monitor lizard blood as a potential cure for COVID.

The long-haired professor, who has become something of a celebrity for his love of lizards, having appeared on TV shows cradling the big scaly beasts, fell in love with animals during a chance encounter a few years ago. While working in his cow disease lab, the professor received a lizard brought in by students who found him struggling in the canal, apparently in distress. After spending a few days tending to the lizard not knowing what to do, Jitkamol was amazed to see the lizard spit out the entire shell of a turtle before quickly recovering.

“From that point on, people started bringing me sick monitor lizards so I had to find out about them and do some research,” he says.

Jitkamol believes their strong immune system has the power to fight disease in humans and has found positive results from the lizard’s blood on cancer cells. The next step is to try it on COVID before the end of the year, he says.

Alternative medicine

Studies on alternative medicines to treat COVID complement Thai vaccine research. Amid government efforts to promote their use, demand for fingerroot (krachai khao) and green chiretta (fah talai jone) exploded. But while herbs have been used for centuries across Asia to treat various infections and conditions, like the flu, their ability to treat the coronavirus remains uncertain.

In May, a professor came out to say that his university, Mahidol, which conducts research on the root, did not support claims by product advertisers that it can kill COVID in humans. He said, however, that his extracts were effective in killing the virus in test tubes.

There has been similar confusion about the green chiretta. In August, the Department of Traditional and Alternative Medicine of Thailand withdrew its study of the plant from publication due to a statistical error, although the department maintained that the herb may help patients with mild symptoms of COVID to to recover. Of course, whether these patients recovered on their own or with the help of the herb is not clear.

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In March, the Department of Disease Control (DDC) defended plans to give up to 12 doses per vial of AstraZeneca vaccine, although the vials technically only contain 10. Officials said doctors could use syringes with low dead space to extract additional doses. The plan was to save the country 1 billion baht.


In July, health officials gave doctors the green light to mix and match the Sinovac and AstraZeneca vaccines, citing a high number of antibodies in their (opaque) experiments. In September, Thai officials again approved the mix-and-match strategy, this time for the shots from AstraZeneca and Pfizer.


Recently, health officials told doctors to give booster shots under the skin rather than into the muscles. By doing this, doctors can get the equivalent of five boosters for each dose administered in the standard manner, stretching the limited supplies to their logical extremes.


Although Sinopharm’s vaccine is not approved for use in children under the age of 18, Thailand has started administering vaccines to children aged 10 to 18 as part of the “Vacc 2 School” campaign. the Chulabhorn Royal Academy (CRA). It is not the first country to do so. China and the United Arab Emirates have both approved Sinopharm for children aged 3 to 17.

This story first appeared in BK

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