Forget cigars and sunny beaches — another benefit to the warming relations between Cuba and the U.S. could be access to the potent Cuban biotech industry.
This untapped resource is highlighted by an FDA-approved trial of a Cuban-developed lung cancer vaccine that got underway at a Buffalo, New York, cancer center late last year.
The agent, CIMAVAX-EGF, is getting its debut at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, where about 90 advanced lung cancer patients will undergo therapy.
“With this landmark clinical trial, Roswell Park, America’s first cancer center, becomes the first American institution to give CIMVAX-EGF to patients,” Candace Johnson, president and chief executive officer of the cancer center, told the Buffalo News.
The center is the first to get the okay to test a Cuban medicine of any kind in the U.S.
“This groundbreaking trial at Roswell Park is the result of our historic partnership with Cuba, and is a testament to New York’s storied legacy as a national leader in progress and innovation,” New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said on a visit to the center in October, 2016.
The vaccine doesn’t attack cancer cells like regular chemotherapy. Instead it boosts the immune system’s production of antibodies to keep the protein epidermal growth factor from fixing to cancer cells and telling them to develop uncontrollably.
CIMAVAX-EGF has been tested in other locations around the world on about 5,000 people suffering from non-small cell cancer. Reports so far show some gains versus placebo. In a published study by Cuban scientists, the agent was found to lengthen life in those with late-stage disease by roughly three months.
“You might call the results modest, but patients’ quality of life is better because the treatment is not as toxic, and we see the potential for using the vaccine earlier in cancer, as well as with other cancers. So, there is real hope here,” Johnson said.
The possible cancer breakthrough is one of a number of potentially game-changing products from the Cuban biotech industry, according to Marketplace News.
Cuba “has built some international acclaim for its pharmaceuticals,” the publication noted in a report this week.
Cuba’s long-isolated research industry could provide not only a balm for many patients, but a boon for the U.S. pharmaceutical industry, it advised.
In 2015, Cuba Business Report, claimed that there were a variety of pharmaceutical anticancer agents in various stages of development there, including:
- CIMAVAX-EGF, which also has clinical trials underway in Canada, the UK, Malaysia and China.
- Racotumomab, which reported some success in a Cuban clinical trial, published in the Journal of the American Association for Clinical Research.
- Theraloc (nimotuzumab), developed by the Center for Molecular Immunology (CIM) in Havana, Cuba, has undergone global clinical trials and is available for various therapies to combat esophageal cancer, glioma, neck and head cancer in India, Japan, China, and some Latin America and Eastern European countries. It has orphan drug status in the U.S.
Roswell’s Dr. Kevin Lee had been informally talking with CIM about the vaccine since 2011, according to the New York Times.
Cuban scientists began their research in the 1990s. Cubans have been able to get CIMAVAX-EGF for free since that year, noted the paper.
“This is a day we have been working toward for many years,” Agustín Lage, director of CIM, stated. “Our partnership with Roswell Park will allow us to learn things about our vaccine faster than what we could achieve working on our own, and we believe it is the best and quickest path for helping a great number of people both in Cuba and the U.S.”
Thomas Dworetzky, dotmed
January 17, 2017