Cuba’s Had a Free Lung Cancer Vaccine For Years – Now It’s Coming To America

For many years now, suffers of the most advanced forms of lung cancer have had a secret, cheap treatment at their disposal. That is, if they lived in Cuba.

The treatment comes in the form of a vaccine, called CimaVax EGF, and is the result of over 25 years of research and development by the Cuban government’s Center for Molecular Immunology.  Residents of the small island nation have had access to the vaccine since 2011.  What’s even more remarkable?  It’s free.

So, Why Hasn’t It Been Available in America?schumer-roswell-park

Quite simply, there has been a trade embargo between the US and Cuba for 55 years.  However, this restriction was lifted late last year.

Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York signed a deal to import CimaVax and begin clinical trials in the United States.

“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,” Dr. Kelvin Lee, Jacobs Family Chair in Immunology and co-leader of the Tumor Immunology and Immunotherapy Program at Roswell Park, told The Huffington Post.

A clinical trial from 2008 found that the treatment increased survival rates for those with stage IIIb and IV non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) by an average of 4-6 months. The medicine showed the most promise for sufferes who were younger than 60 years old, with an average lifespan of 15 months longer than those who were treated with chemotherapy alone.

CimaVax now joins two other cancer vaccines current;y being researched in the US, BLP 25 and GVAX.  

How Does it Work?

cuban-lung-cancer-vaccine1The vaccine, unlike other approved treatments and treatments in trial, does not attack the tumor itself.  Instead, it targets a naturally occurring protein in the body called epidermal growth factor (EGF).  The protein is normally charged with signaling a cell to divide.

A tumor, of course, is more or less cell division that has gone out of control. CimaVax blocks the growth factor by stimulating the body’s immune system, which limits tumor growth.

Researchers think that the drug might have applications for cancers besides that of the lung, such as colon, pancreatic, breast and prostate cancers.

Medical Innovation from a Third World Nation

All this begs the question of how such advanced medical science is being done in a country whose average citizen makes $20 a month.

Well, necessity breeds invention. Cuba is famous for its cigars, and lung cancer is a big problem.  It is currently the fourth leading killer of Cuban citizens. Also, since the nation is economically depressed, they’ve had to be creative when developing medical technology.


“They’ve had to do more with less,” says CEO of Roswell Park Candace Johnson, “so they’ve had to be even more innovative with how they approach things. For over 40 years, they have had a preeminent immunology community.”

The Cuban medical community has done a fantastic job, as the average lifespan for a resident of the third world nation is 79 years. This is on par with countries of the developed world. Indeed, there are other drugs for cancer being tested that came from Cuban innovation.

Thomas Rothstein, biologist at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, has worked with the Center for Molecular Immunology on another vaccine to treat lung cancer for six years, called Racotumomab. “Investigators from around the world are trying to crack the nut of cancer,” says Rothstein. “The Cubans are thinking in ways that are novel and clever.”

With so many years of research under their belts already, promising Cuban drugs can be fast-tracked by the FDA. Scientists hope that cancer sufferers in the US will have access to these drugs in the near future.

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