Thanks Obama! Opening Trade With Cuba Could Mean A Lung Cancer Vaccine


The problem with cutting ties to certain parts of the world is that there’s a good chance we’d be missing out on something.

By cutting off ties to Cuba for the last 55 years, we’ve missed out on a beautiful culture, cigars (if that’s your thing), a great vacation spot and a possible path to curing lung cancer.

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Wait, what? The country that’s been run by a guy who never changes his clothes and whose people still drive cars from the 50s might have the cure for lung cancer?

While not a cure, per se, Cuba does have a vaccine to protect against lung cancer. Lung cancer is a horrible disease. It’s the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. and it’s the second most common cancer.

While most people who contract lung cancer are or were smokers, some have never even picked up a cigarette. Cuba’s vaccine, called Cimavax, could put an end to that and it looks rather promising.

Last month, according to Wired, New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, paid a visit to the island and returned with an agreement with Cuba’s Center for Molecular Immunology to green light both the testing and development of Cimavax.

“The chance to evaluate a vaccine like this is a very exciting prospect,” says Candace Johnson, CEO of Roswell Park. She’s excited, most likely, because research on the vaccine so far shows that it has low toxicity, and it’s relatively cheap to produce and store. The Center for Molecular Immunology will give Roswell Park all of the documentation (how it’s produced, toxicity data, results from past trials) for an FDA drug application; Johnson says she hopes to get approval for testing Cimavax within six to eight months, and to start clinical trials in a year.

The other thing sure to p*** off your Republican friends is that the communist country, with socialized medicine and essentially no profit incentive for researchers, is famous for some of the most notable biotech and medical research in the world. In. The. World. So much for the idea that innovation only happens with a huge carrot at the end of the stick.

It seems that all those cigars have been taking a toll on Cuba’s health. Lung cancer is the fourth leading cause of death in Cuba. So, as a society, they saw a problem and they did something about it.

Despite decades of economic sanctions, Fidel and Raul Castro made biotechnology and medical research, particularly preventative medicine, a priority. After the 1981 dengue fever outbreak struck nearly 350,000 Cubans, the government established the Biological Front, an effort to focus research efforts by various agencies toward specific goals. Its first major accomplishment was the successful (and unexpected) production of interferon, a protein that plays a role in human immune response. Since then, Cuban immunologists made several other vaccination breakthroughs, including their own vaccines for meningitis B and hepatitis B, and monoclonal antibodies for kidney transplants.

It took 25 years to develop the vaccine but beginning in 2011, it was available to the public.

Cimavax isn’t like most vaccines, in that it doesn’t prevent lung cancer as much as it stunts the tumors’ growth. It may also prove beneficial in other cancers.

Cuban researchers aren’t resting on their laurels either. There is at least one more promising cancer vaccine and their contribution to the medical community is as one medical researcher puts it, “novel and clever.”

Featured image via Wikimedia.

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