HAVANA, Cuba, Thursday March 3, 2016 – When Barack Obama becomes the first American president to visit Cuba in 88 years, the historic occasion is expected to open the door to a number of collaborations, none the least of which involves a pioneering approach to the treatment of cancer.
The communist Caribbean country is said to have developed the first vaccine in use for lung cancer, the most lethal cancer in the United States, which claims the lives of an average of 432 Americans every day.
The lengthy process involved in introducing a drug into the US market got underway last year for the Cuban vaccine, known as CimaVax, which has also proved to be effective at treating the existing condition. It is hoped that President Obama’s visit will go some way towards speeding up the process.
“We’re still working on FDA approval, but we’re hopeful that this year we’ll start trials,” said Dr Candace Johnson, CEO of Rosewell Park Cancer Institute, the research centre that is evaluating CimaVax for US use.
“Things in Cuba have gotten a lot easier. They have Verizon now and an embassy, we’re having a lot of success working together with the Cubans,” Dr Johnson told Fox News.
“We’re still at the very early stages of assessing the promise of this vaccine, but the evidence so far from clinical trials in Cuba and Europe has been striking,” Roswell Park’s Dr Kelvin Lee told the Huffington Post.
— Lung Cancer Symptoms (@LungSymptoms) September 3, 2015
Dr Johnson said that they are most excited about the preventative uses of CimaVax.
“We’d like to use it in patients with Stage I [cancer] – people with high-levels of recurrence. It could also be used to prevent cancer from growing,” she said.
According to Fox, the future of cancer vaccines are “most definitely” the future of treatment. Cancer vaccines are not just a dream for the future: several FDA-approved vaccines are cancer prevention vaccines. The hepatitis B vaccine and the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines prevent infection with cancer-causing viruses.
“There are many other drug vaccine approaches that could be useful in cancer-related diseases. We’re hoping for new avenues will open to promising therapies for patients,” Dr Johnson indicated.
“We want to be the gateway with the Cubans. As this progresses, this will be available to everyone,” she added.
CimaVax has been researched in Cuba for 25 years and has been available free of charge to the Cuban public since 2011.
More than 3,000 patients have received treatment with the vaccine, and in December last year clinical trials were expanded to treat Stage 2 and 3 of the disease.
Each dose costs US$1 to produce and has low levels of toxicity. Johnson explained that, since the vaccines are essentially training the immune system to fight cancer, these treatments won’t cause hair loss, for example.