Zebrafish assays´ added value proposition for the Tobacco industry

Background on the tobacco industry

As of 2022, the global tobacco market was valued at approximately 867.55 USD billion, and it is projected to experience a 2.1% annual growth from 2023 to 2024. This has been attributed to rising consumption in the developing regions of Asia and Africa, but also to the trend toward new tobacco products launched, attracting a new demographic of consumers. This growth comes despite increasing awareness of the unfavorable consequences to public health and an excruciating effort to decrease the sale and consumption of tobacco and tobacco-related products.

The WHO (World Health Organization) considers tobacco use to be “the leading cause of death, illness and impoverishment”, labeling its usage as an epidemic. Tobacco consumption is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced. Consequently, in recent years the sale of tobacco has been subject to increasing sanctions, with bans on advertising, promotion, sponsorship, elevated taxation on tobacco-based products, and the enforcement of hard-hitting health warnings on product packaging.

As a result, the Tobacco industry has diversified, introducing new products such as e-cigarettes (often referred to as vapes), and heated tobacco products. Although the sale of such products to minors is banned in many countries, these products have fallen under intense scrutiny, following reports of high levels of teen addiction, and potential cardio-respiratory symptoms, mostly possibly resulting from the excessive inhalation of certain toxicants in the aerosols used to deliver the product. Consequently, the industry is facing further opposition, with calls for bans on the marketing of vapes to youngsters’ by means of bright colors and sweet fruit flavors. In the UK, this stance was recently voiced by both the Shadow Health Secretary and the Shadow Minister for Children. In response, the industry insists that e-cigarettes are not marketed to the underage population and are rather intended as a safer option for adult cigarette smokers.

Similar challenges within the cannabinoid industry

The increased presence of cannabinoid-based products in retail outlets represents a similar development in a closely related market. The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK already approved several cannabis-based products for the treatment of chronic pain, nausea, spasticity, and severe epilepsy. Furthermore, the recreational smoking of cannabis has been legalized in many countries. The negative health impacts associated with smoking cannabis have not prevented a strong uptake in the use of non-prescribed cannabis-based products, such as cannabis beverages and cannabidiol (CBD) products, which are often marketed as health products or nutraceuticals for the treatment of anxiety and inflammation. These products have also faced opposition on account of uncertainty regarding the side effects of exposure in high doses and regular long-term use.

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The need for reliable toxicity assays and screening

With many of the products marketed by the Tobacco industry being relatively new, the key issue surrounding market acceptance and regulatory approval is that of uncertainty concerning their safety and long-term effects. While the WHO has labeled the industry a preventable “human and economic tragedy”, the potential medical benefits of inhaled plant-derived products cannot be ignored. Certain tobacco derivatives and cannabinoids have been demonstrated to be effective in the treatment of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, as well as anxiety and various mental health disorders. Within a context of strict regulation and opposition, paired with a lack of knowledge regarding potential long-term effects, robust toxicity testing and screening are vital.

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Biobide’s value proposition for the tobacco industry

Time and cost-effective preclinical studies on the potential health hazards, nicotine addiction, and the cognitive impact of tobacco, its derivates, other plant-derived products and cannabis-based products are essential in order to safeguard public health and the future of the Tobacco industry. With the market for new products already rapidly expanding despite a lack of reliable scientific data, there is a need for fast and affordable experimental models. The idea of being able to observe the effects of certain chemical compounds on the organism as a whole favors the use of in vivo models.

Biobide is a CRO (Contract Research Organization) that specializes in toxicity and safety assays as well as pre-clinical efficacy assays using Zebrafish as an in vivo New Alternative Model (NAM). This allows them to promote high-content and cost-effective screening alternative assays compared to mammals that fulfill high ethical standards. Zebrafish is an excellent model to test the effects of tobacco and cannabis derivatives for both toxicity and efficacy. Likewise, the use of NAMs is essential in order to acquire fast and reliable data concerning the toxicity and long-term health impact of new products such as e-cigarettes and CBD products. Biobide’s value proposition extends beyond merely proving or disproving the safety of a particular compound. Zebrafish embryos can be used to carry out initial screenings for the efficacy of such products in the development of new medicines, nutraceuticals, cosmetic products, or alternative therapeutic options in various fields. The benefits of zebrafish rely on their genetic similarities with humans, coupled with their sensitivity to toxic substances, transparency during embryonic development, fast organogenesis, and the possibility of easy genetic manipulation. The study of the movement and sleep patterns of the fish following exposure to a wide range of generated molecules appears promising to study the effect of tobacco and cannabis derivatives within the context of preclinical anxiolytic development. Moreover, assays conducted by Biobide have also included acute toxicity and teratogenicity assays, as well as assays to determine the effects of tobacco and cannabinoid derivatives on angiogenesis, inflammation, neurotoxicity, or mood and behavior (including learning and memory).


On account of its utter scale, the tobacco industry is of vital importance to the global economy. Despite an increased awareness of the detrimental health impact of smoking, the industry has expanded into new markets, introducing a wide range of new products in the process. The potentially harmful effects of new products such as e-cigarettes and vapes remain largely unknown, and extensive toxicity studies are required. Aside from screening for toxicity, preclinical assays of the medical benefits of tobacco derivatives, other plant-derived products, and cannabinoid derivatives are crucial for the use of their benefits. In this field, the use of NAMs has proven to be effective in delivering reliable, and time- and cost-effective results. Biobide’s pioneering work using zebrafish as a NAM has resulted in many tobacco companies turning to the organization for the development and conducting of deeper toxicity evaluations and efficacy assays, with a view to knowing the health impact of their products and exploring new therapeutic areas, even for target validation. Particular areas of interest include the treatment of inflammation, cardiovascular conditions, sleep disorders, and neurological conditions such as anxiety.

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  • Tobacco Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report By Product (2023), Grand View Research (https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/tobacco-market#:~:text=The%20global%20tobacco%20market%20size,regions%20of%20Asia%20and%20Africa.)
  • Tobacco (2023), World Health Organization (https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/tobacco#:~:text=The%20tobacco%20industry%20produces%20and,is%20shocking%2C%20and%20also%20preventable.)
  • Cannabis-based products for medicinal use (CBPMs) (2023), NHS England, (https://www.england.nhs.uk/long-read/cannabis-based-products-for-medicinal-use-cbpms/)





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