Thanks to the ongoing warming of relations between Cuba and the U.S., Americans may soon have access to a groundbreaking vaccine against lung cancer called Cimavax. Though Cubans have had access to the drug since 2011, it has remained unavailable to most Americans thanks to the longstanding U.S. trade embargo on the Caribbean island. A new agreement between the U.S.-based Roswell Park Cancer Institute and Cuba’s Center for Molecular Immunology, which was finalized during New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s diplomatic mission to Havana last month, promises to change that however.
As per the agreement, Cimavax will soon be made available to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for evaluation. The Center for Molecular Immunology, the Cuban research agency which created the vaccine, is sharing information regarding the drug’s production process, toxicity levels and past clinical trials in an effort to speed up the FDA’s assessment process. Pending the drug’s eventual approval, Candace Johnson, CEO of Roswell Park, expects development of an American version of the vaccine to begin within the year.
Cimavax isn’t an outright lung cancer cure; it’s a preemptive treatment designed to manage the disease’s growth. By attacking a harmful protein produced by tumors, the vaccine can prolong a lung cancer patient’s life by four to six months -according to a 2008 study.
In Cuba, where lung cancer is the fourth-leading cause of death among a population attached to their internationally renowned cigars, Cimavax has been a godsend. The drug was developed by Cuban researchers over the course of 25 years as part of the Castro government’s Biological Front program -a longterm biotechnology and medical research initiative that has yielded numerous breakthroughs, including vaccines for meningitis B and hepatitis B. Like all healthcare services on the Caribbean nation, Cimavax is available to all Cubans free of charge and is produced by the Cuban government at an impressively low cost of $1 per shot.
Cuban medical research programs and healthcare policies have been widely lauded. “Cuba is the only country that has a healthcare system closely linked to research and development,” Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), explained during a trip to Havana last summer. She also particularly praised the Cuban government’s focus on securing cost effective preventative treatments for its population, stressing that Cuba’s healthcare system serves as a role model to other cash strapped developing nations. The Castro regime spends significantly less money than the U.S. government does on healthcare per individual and yet delivers comparable, and in many cases superior, outcomes, a reality which serves as an indictment of the U.S.’s dysfunctional private healthcare and health insurance industries as much as it is a vindication of Cuba’s socialized system. With a relatively high life expectancy of 78 years, Cubans continue to live longer on average than most other populations in the Americas.
Echoing Chan’s earlier praises, Johnson described the Cuban healthcare system: “They’ve had to do more with less… so they’ve had to be even more innovative with how they approach things. For over 40 years, they have had a preeminent immunology community.”
Significant obstacles to further collaboration between American and Cuban medical researchers remain due to the U.S. continuing trade embargo on the island nation.