Americans could benefit from lung cancer vaccine developed in Cuba

13 May 2015

New York's Roswell Park Cancer Institute, in partnership with Cuba's Center for Molecular Immunology, will conduct tests on a much-needed lung cancer vaccine called Cimavax, developed in Cuba.

With relations between US and Cuba improving, the US wanted to see if it could benefit from the vaccine.

"It's a therapeutic vaccine," explains Neel V Patel, an editorial fellow for Wired, who reported about the vaccine. "Typically, we think of vaccines as something that will prevent a disease from happening. This works by just stimulating the immune system to respond better to the cancer and to attack the tumor in a more efficient way."

The deal would allow US researchers to gain  access to documentation on clinical trials and toxicity reports, which could be used to draft an application to the FDA. If it was approved, a clinical trial could start at Roswell.

Though it would be some time before the vaccine becomes available in the US, some have asked how Cuba had have developed the vaccine in the first place, as it had been under a strict embargo for decades.

Candace Johnson, CEO of Roswell Park told Wired the chance to evaluate a vaccine like this was a very exciting prospect.

She said her excitement stemmed from the vaccine's relatively low toxicity and low cost to produce and store.

It cost the Cuban government only $1 per dose and was free for Cubans. It remained, unclear though, how much American patients would eventually pay should Cimavax reach the market in the US.

Research had also shown that the drug was effective for patients who had not responded to other treatments. In a trial in 2008, it was shown that patients who received the vaccine lived on average four to six months longer.

However, Cuba's Center for Molecular Immunology had come out with a second lung cancer vaccine that showed equal promise.

Approved in 2013, Racotumomab also appeared to significantly add to the life of lung cancer patients by halting the growth of their tumours.

Like in the US, the most deadly cancer in Cuba was lung cancer and around 5,000 residents had an advanced form of the disease at the time of Racotumomab's approval.

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