The Obama administration’s efforts to loosen the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba last year may have unearthed an unexpected benefit: a vaccine for lung cancer.
The medication, called CIMAVax, is the result of 25 years of research at Cuba’s Center of Molecular Immunology and has been available to Cuban citizens since 2011. (You can download a PDF of the study HERE.)
However, most Americans haven’t even heard of it due to an American embargo in place on Cuban goods since the early 1960s.
That’s about to change.
In October of 2016, the U.S. Department of the Treasury instituted sanction amendments that allowed exceptions for pharmaceuticals imported from Cuba, and the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y., received Food and Drug Administration approval to begin a clinical trial of CIMAVax. Though CIMAVax has been tested in other countries, including Japan and Europe, it will be the first time the U.S. has ever run a clinical trial with Cuban drugs.
“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,” said Dr. Kelvin Lee of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute.
CIMAVax is not just a vaccine, but a treatment: Part of the new class of immunotherapy cancer drugs, it works by boosting the patient’s immune system to fight the disease. CIMAVax specifically targets a lung cancer-specific protein called epidermal growth factor, stimulating the immune system to create antibodies to bind to it and prevent further growth.
So far, 5,000 people worldwide have been treated with CIMAVax. Though results have varied, the most promising trial showed that patients who took the drug lived 11 months longer than those who did not undergo treatment.
Kat Merck is a freelance writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. An amateur naturalist who studied forestry and natural resources at Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo, she writes on a wide range of topics for local and national publications.