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Cuba: Doctors Hope Lung Cancer Vaccine Will Get Major Boost

04/04/2016 06:00AM | 4436 views

While in political circles the historical handshake between Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro was both applauded and condemned, in aseptic hospital hallways it signaled a path to a medical collaboration that had remained untouched for more than six decades.

And, for now, it would appear the U.S. has the most to gain.

Cuba may be submerged in poverty and isolation, but it claims to have the first vaccine available for lung cancer, the most lethal cancer in the U.S. with an average of 432 Americans killed per day.

The vaccine, which also has proved to be effective to treat the existing condition, is called CimaVax. It didn’t take long after the April, 2015 handshake, just a few days actually, for a high-profile U.S. delegation to set foot on Cuba and start the lengthy process that involves introducing a drug into the U.S. market.

“We’re still working on FDA approval, but we’re hopeful that this year we’ll start trials,” said Dr. Candace Johnson, CEO of Rosewell Park Cancer Institute, the research center that is evaluating CimaVax for U.S. use. 

“Things in Cuba have gotten a lot easier. They have Verizon now and an embassy, we’re having a lot of success working together with the Cubans,” she told Fox News Latino.

"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 Roswell Park’s Dr. Kelvin Lee to the Huffington Post recently.

CimaVax has been researched in Cuba for 25 years and is free to the Cuban public since 2011. More than 3,000 patients have received treatment with the vaccine, and in December of 2015 expanded its clinical trials to treat Stage 2 and 3 of the disease.

Each dose costs $1 to produce and has low levels of toxicity. For example, Johnson said, since the vaccines are essentially training your immune system to fight cancer, these treatments won’t cause hair loss.

Dr. Johnson says they’re most excited about the preventative uses. “We’d like to use it in patients with Stage I – people with high-levels of recurrence. It could also be used to prevent cancer from growing,” Dr. Johnson says.

The future of cancer vaccines are most definitely the future of treatment. Cancer vaccines are not just a dream for the future: several FDA-approved vaccines are cancer prevention vaccines. The hepatitis B vaccine and the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines prevent infection with cancer-causing viruses.

“There are many other drug vaccine approaches that could be useful in cancer-related diseases. We’re hoping for new avenues will open to promising therapies for patients,” Dr. Johnson said.
“We want to be the gateway with the Cubans. As this progresses, this will be available to everyone,” she added.

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