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The rare Chilean tree that could help end the pandemic

Published Oct 24, 2020


CAPE TOWN - The rare soapbark tree found in Chile has been found to produce important compounds that could boost the body's reaction vaccines possibly assisting the efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccine.

As the development of various Covid-19 vaccines continues and the world awaits a complete and official vaccine, researchers continue to look for new ways to combat the novel virus.

Many companies and organisations have jumped into the global Covid-19 vaccine race but with a wide range of approaches, with one rather more unique than the other.

Paul Hiley and son Damian, from Desert King International LLC based in San Diego, are leading sellers of plant-based food additives found in various products such as rootbeers and Slurpees with the company joining forces with Stanley Erck, CEO of Novavax, an American vaccine-development company, who had already joined the Covid-19 vaccine race but with a rather unique ingredient - compounds found in the Chilean soapbark tree.

The inner bark of the Chilean soapbark tree,

Quillaja saponaria, is a source of saponins that are processed and soaked in water and transformed into a gooey and bubbly fluid used as a foaming agent in Slurpees and rootbeer but it just so happens to be raw material that boosts the body's immune reaction to vaccines which Novax believes may assist in the success of their Covid-19 vaccine.

The compound found in Chilean soapbark tree is called QS-21, and although only a small amount of adjuvants - which is a pharmacological or immunological additive that improves the immune response to vaccines - are approved by the US FDA (Food and Drug Administrations) with QS-21 one of the most recent.

As Novax continues their vaccine development, a few points of concern do arise as one gram of QS-21 in its powdered form costs $100,000 (R1 631 315) although only $5 (R81,57) worth of QS-21 is needed for each vaccine shot.

What may prove even more problematic is that saponins are a limited resource with the Chilean soapbark tree bark harvesting window also only taking place during September and December with 100 million doses of Novavax COVID-19 vaccine's expected for the world by the end of the year, and a billion doses by the end of 2021 if the vaccine is a success.

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