First Ever U.S.–Cuba Clinical Trials Begin

A joint venture between the U.S.’s Roswell Park Cancer Institute and Cuba’s Center of Molecular Immunology will research and eventually manufacture a medication long used in Cuba to treat lung cancer.

The Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York, has become the first U.S. medical institution to start clinical trials with a Cuban facility since the U.S. federal trade embargo began in the 1960s. The collaboration between Roswell Park and Cuba’s Center of Molecular Immunology (CIM) will establish the first U.S.–Cuban joint venture licensed to do research, development, manufacturing and marketing of biotech products. Because of the embargo, the partnership required special authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of the Treasury. According to the New York Times, Dr. Kelvin Lee, the chair of immunology at Roswell Park, has been collaborating with scientists at CIM since 2011. The medicine, Cimavax, was developed by Cuba's state biotech industry in the 1990s and has been used by Cuban doctors for 25 years to treat lung cancer. Elia Neninger, an oncologist at the Hermanos Ameijeiras Hospital in Havana, told BBC Magazine that she has used the drug with hundreds of patients to essentially transform lung cancer into a chronic disease. The BBC notes that Cuba's biotech industry today includes around 22,000 scientists, technicians and engineers. It was spurred partly by the U.S. embargo, because Cuba didn’t have access to U.S.-produced drugs, and today that industry sells medication to much of the world. Trials began at the Buffalo institute in January. —LB

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