Cuba's promising lung cancer vaccine is coming to the United States

Vaccine keeps tumors from metastasizing and growing

New York-based Roswell Park Cancer Institute and Cuba's Center for Molecular Immunology last month finalized an agreement to bring a lung cancer vaccine to the United States, setting it up for potential FDA approval.

In December 2014, President Obama began to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba. Obama has lifted some trade restrictions against medical and research equipment. However, Congress would need to lift the trade embargo against Cuba—which has been in place for 55 years—in order to increase collaborative research between the two countries, according to Wired.

Warming ties with Cuba promises new heath care opportunities

Details of lung cancer vaccine

The lung cancer vaccine, called Cimavax, was developed more than 25 years ago by Cuba's Center for Molecular Immunology. Cuba's Ministry of Health then released it to the public at no cost in 2011, with each shot of the vaccine costing the government about $1.

Cimavax does not cure or prevent lung cancer. Rather than combatting tumors directly, it works to keep tumors from metastasizing and growing, which can make a late-stage growth more manageable. A 2008 Phase II trial of Cimavax found that individuals with lung cancer who received the medication lived four to six months longer on average than those who did not.

The cancers that patients are most likely to survive

Agreement details

As part of the agreement, CMI agreed to provide Roswell Park with all documentation about Cimavax necessary for an FDA application.

Roswell Park CEO Candace Johnson said she would like to receive approval to begin testing the vaccine in the United States in the next six to eight months and begin clinical trials in one year. Roswell Park officials said they intend to evaluate whether the vaccine could be used as a preventive measure. Cuba had not tested Cimavax's preventive capabilities mostly because of financial reasons, according to Wired (Patel, Wired, 5/11; Miller, "Morning Mix," Washington Post, 5/12).

The takeaway: An American company will begin tests on a promising lung cancer vaccine that has developed 25 years ago in Cuba and is now available to U.S. researchers because President Obama has restored diplomatic ties with the country.

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