Joint U.S-Cuban Biotech Venture Develops New Cancer Vaccines


When Fidel Castro assumed the position as Cuban President shortly after he successfully led a revolution to topple Fulgencio Batista in 1959 and later announced his alliance with the Soviet Union, the United States responded with a total embargo of American exports sent to Cuba, as well as an embargo of Cuban imports into the United States. This resulted in nearly 50 years of diplomatic animosity between the two countries which dwindled down when Fidel Castro stepped down from power in 2008 to hand over the presidency to his brother Raul and subsequently led to the resumption of U.S.-Cuban relations in 2015.

The rekindled diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba have allowed venture capitalism to make its return to Cuba for the first time since the 1959 Revolution. One joint venture between U.S. and Cuban firms is regarding the healthcare industry as the Roswell Park Cancer Institute from Buffalo, New York and Cuba’s Center for Molecular Immunology have announced a three-year partnership with each other.

The joint biotech venture is the result of collaboration between American and Cuban research scientists who want build cancer therapies for American patients to attend to while they are in Cuba, especially since the Cuban health care system is considered among some of the best healthcare systems in the world as all citizens are taken care of in government-run hospitals and clinics. The partnership between the Roswell Park Cancer Institute and the Havana-based Center for Molecular Immunology will be based in Cuba’s Special Development Zone, which is located at Mariel Bay and it offers companies that work there some tax cuts and incentives.

The joint venture has its roots in New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s April 2015 trade mission to Havana, especially since he was the person who had facilitated this partnership, and he stated that the partnership “will advance the research and development of new cancer medicines that may prolong and enhance survival for thousands of U.S. patients”. The partnership will also give the Roswell Park Cancer Institute access to CIMAvax, a Cuban-developed lung cancer treatment, and three additional cancer drugs and these treatments are unique approaches to treating some of the most severe cancer types in the U.S. and in other countries.

The CIMAvax lung cancer vaccine is developed to combat against a molecule called EGFR, which is found in both healthy cells and lung cancer cells and it is highly expressed in some patients who have lung cancer. Since the CIMAvax studies were conducted outside the United States, the FDA will not use research studies to approve drug use in this country but will allow the Roswell Park Cancer Institute and the Center for Molecular Immunology to enroll participants who have stage 4 lung cancer treatment and already received chemotherapy in a two-part clinical trial to test and see if CIMAvax is appropriate to use in the United States.

The CIMAvax vaccine has already treated more than 5,000 patients worldwide and the treatments of those patients have led to the vaccine being praised for improving survival rates and quality of life compared to lung cancer patients who did not receive any kind of medication. Last month, preliminary results from CIMAvax phase 1 clinical trial for non-small-cell lung cancer were presented at the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer’s 19th World Conference on Lung Cancer in Toronto and it was concluded that the CIMAvax therapy was found to be safe, tolerated, and worthy of study.

The main goal of the joint biotech venture is to export Cuban-developed cancer drugs into the United States so that American cancer patients will see their survival rates increase and their lives extended, even though it takes 7 to 10 years for a pharmaceutical to progress from clinical trials to FDA approval. As prior mentioned, the Special Development Zone in Mariel Bay, which is synonymous for being the departure point for thousands of Cubans migrating to the U.S., is a zone that welcomes foreign companies to invest in Cuba and at the moment, 27 foreign companies are currently conducting business operations in the zone that’s considered by Raul Castro as “the most important project of the Cuban Revolution in the past 50 years”.

The Cuban healthcare industry has been trying to enter the U.S. market by exporting vital medications such as vaccines, diagnostic kits, and importantly, cancer drugs, for American patients who can benefit from the medications that can save their lives. Exporting the medications into the U.S. market will generate a significant amount of revenue for the Cuban healthcare industry and the treatments that have been developed by Cuban research scientists have already proven its worth in numerous countries and the United States will be a new country to export these medications to in the near future.

The lifting of the U.S. embargo on Cuba has also allowed the U.S. to loosen its restrictions on Cuba in regards to the medical field and encourages more joint U.S.-Cuban R&D (research & development) collaborations in researching and developing vaccines that will soon be widely available in American hospitals and clinics. The Roswell Park Cancer Institute is now expecting additional clinical trials under the joint venture as it aims to test the drugs on more than 100 patients over the next three years and phase 2 of the clinical trials is planned to start later this year.

The cooperation between the Roswell Park Cancer Institute and the Center for Molecular Immunology is another milestone for reestablished U.S.-Cuban diplomatic relations which can pave the way for more partnerships between other medical research firms in the U.S. and Cuba. If the drug vaccines do get official approval to be developed and sold in the U.S. market, it will be a breakthrough for the U.S. healthcare industry as it’ll see that the vaccines have been proven in other countries to have successfully treated other patients and American lung cancer patients will also see these vaccines as beneficial for not only their lives but for other Americans who are currently dealing with other forms of cancer as well.