As part of ongoing talks to lift the embargo that has isolated the island of Cuba for decades, the Cuban government is sharing a lung cancer vaccine that they have developed that may help slow the progress of the disease.

Due to Cuba’s economic isolation, the Cuban government has made medical research, including biotechnology and preventative medicine, a priority. This has led to many in-house breakthroughs, including the development of interferon, a protein that plays a role in human immune response, vaccines for meningitis B, hepatitis B, and monoclonal antibodies for organ transplants.

One of the major breakthroughs that Havana’s Centro de Inmunología Molecular (Center of Molecular Immunology, or CIM) has made is Cimavax, a vaccine that halts the spread of malignant tumors in lung cancer patients. While it doesn’t affect the tumors directly, it goes after proteins produced by the tumors that get into the bloodstream. This, in turn, triggers the body to produce antibodies that work against the epidermal growth factor, a hormone that is typically used in signaling the growth of healthy cells, but can also trigger the start of new tumors. CIM’s phase-2 trials showed that life expectancy in patients was extended by an average of four to six months.

The information on Cimavax is being provided to Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, NY, for development of drug trials for FDA approval. While Cimavax doesn’t cure the patient’s cancer itself, it can slow the spread of the disease, and is also being looked at as a potential preventative treatment. And as epidermal growth factor is a factor in other types of cancer as well, it will also be tested in that regard–something the CIM didn’t have the resources to do previously.

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