U.S. quietly lifts medical embargo on Cuba, opening floodgates for new drugs
By Rebekah Sager Published October 21, 2016 Fox News Latino
While much of the country has been excited about a recent rule change
allowing Americans to buy as much Cuban rum and cigars as they want, the
medical community has been trumpeting the easing of the Cuban embargo
for a different reason.
Last week, the Obama administration quietly lifted obstacles to medical
research out of Cuba that may have far-reaching impacts for hundreds of
thousands of Americans with cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
On Oct. 14, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets
Control (OFAC) announced a lift in a medical embargo allowing U.S.
medical research centers to collaborate with Cubans in commercial as
well as non-commercial research.
The lift will also allow Cuban-developed pharmaceuticals to enter the
normal FDA authorization process and be sold in the U.S. once it is
Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell announced on
Wednesday that she will travel to Cuba with National Institute of Health
Director Dr. Francis Collins to visit various medical sites focused on
healthcare and research.
“The Cubans have developed really novel cancer drugs and other drugs
that U.S. patients have not had access to. Now we can research these in
a pilot or phase one,” Dr. Thomas Schwaab, chief of strategy, business
development and outreach at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo,
New York, told Fox News Latino.
One of the novel cancer drugs Schwaab and Roswell Park are most excited
about is called CimaVax – the first vaccine to treat lung cancer, a
disease that kills an average of 432 Americans every day.
In a 2007 study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, CimaVax
was shown to be safe and effective and may even prevent the disease.
CimaVax has been researched in Cuba for 25 years and has been free to
the Cuban public since 2011. More than 3,000 patients have received
treatment with the vaccine, and in December of 2015 clinical trials were
expanded to treat Stages 2 and 3 of the disease.
Although there’s still a long way to go before CimaVax will be
commercially available to Americans, Schwaab says there’s a lot to be
learned from Cuban’s “population health” model, where drugs are produced
for very little money.
Each dose of CimaVax costs $1 to produce and has low levels of toxicity,
experts said. Since the vaccine is essentially training the immune
system to fight cancer, it doesn’t cause hair loss like traditional
treatments such as chemotherapy.
Roswell Park intends to begin clinical trials of CimaVax later this year
or early 2017.
“The reason why it’s exciting is because we don’t have any treatment
alternative for patients with recurring lung cancer, it would
immediately help a lot of American patients,” Schwaab says.
Dr. Kelvin Lee, chair of the Department of Immunology at Roswell Park,
told Fox News Latino that his team learned about vaccines being
developed in Cuba that target only cancer cells to lessen the drug’s
toxicity and vaccines for cholesterol which would allow addressing heart
disease. It even has a nose spray that may reverse traumatic brain injury.
“…There’s a lot of exciting biotechnology happening in Cuba,” Lee told
FNL earlier this year. “The life expectancy in Cuba is the same as in
the U.S. The infant mortality rate is the same as in the U.S… They’re
very innovative and thoughtful, doing a lot as economically as possible.”
Rebekah Sager is a writer/editor for Fox News Latino. She can be reached
at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @rebekah_sager
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