President Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba next month is the first by an American president in nearly a century.
The thawing relations between the two countries are expected to bring a bumper crop of famed Cuban cigars, among other imports.
Strangely enough, another eagerly anticipated product is a lung cancer vaccine some say could be a breakthrough in oncology.
Cimavax has reportedly been in development in Cuba for 25 years, partly because lung cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the Caribbean nation.
The injection is not like the other cancer-fighting immunotherapies being developed in hundreds of American labs, said Kelvin Lee, the director of immunology at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y. Lee and other doctors visited the island nation last year to gauge medical progress – and they found that the vaccine was a promising breakthrough, he wrote in an analysis.
“Unlike other immunotherapies, CimaVax does not target cancer directly and it is not personalized. Rather, the vaccine targets a growth factor (EGF) necessary for the cancer to survive,” Lee said. “By targeting and effectively depleting this growth factor, the cancer starves and its progress slows, prolonging patients’ lives.”
The results so far show that patients’ lives were extended from seven to an average of 18 months with the vaccine treatment.
A possibility of skipping Phase I testing exists, Lee added. The FDA inspection period should end sometime this year, allowing testing to begin. Lee and the other doctors envision the vaccine’s efficacy translating over to other head and neck cancers, as well.
READ MORE: The U.S. Looks to Improve on Cuba’s Lung Cancer Vaccine
Some studies have shown promise in Cimavax, as it has cut back the EGF needed for the cancer to progress. It has done this with minimal side effects, including nausea, fever and vomiting. Survival dramatically improved in those patients with advanced Stage 3 and Stage 4 tumors, according to a Cuban study conducted in 2007.
However, the vaccine has only been administered to a few thousand people worldwide – and it is still far from FDA approval, the doctor said.
Cancer Research UK urged patience in looking to CimaCax, in a statement released last year.
“This research is promising but this is a small trial and we will need more trial results before we know exactly how well the vaccine works for people with lung cancer. A phase 3 trial is currently in progress in Cuba,” they said in a statement.
Obama announced the U.S. was “extending a hand of friendship” to Cuba – just 90 miles from Florida – in December 2014. The cooperation between Cuban and American doctors began with a trade mission in April 2015. Since then, the U.S. has restored up to 110 daily flights to Havana.
Obama’s March 21 visit to the island nation has been lambasted by critics such as presidential Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, both Republican presidential hopefuls who are of Cuban descent.
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Filed Under: Drug Discovery