Medicago gets big backer for tobacco vax

After quietly backing the small Canadian vaccine developer Medicago, the giant tobacco company Philip Morris has stepped up to grab a majority interest in the company. Philip Morris took 49.9 percent of Medicago in exchange for about $16 million. The deal marks a coming-out of sorts for Philip Morris, which had only been identified as a Fortune 100 company in previous releases.

Their money will be put to use developing seasonal and pandemic influenza vaccines in plants. Medicago's virus-like particle technology produces recombinant vaccine antigens in non-transgenic plants. And the company has been touting the potential of the technology against an outbreak of H5N1 in humans. Once an outbreak occurs and the flu strain is genetically analyzed, the company says its tobacco-based approach could deliver a targeted vaccine faster and at a lower cost than current technologies.

"This transaction provides us with the necessary capital to continue the development of our vaccine candidates and will bring additional expertise to further develop our vaccine production technologies." said Andy Sheldon, President & CEO of Medicago.

- read the Medicago release