Cuba’s Innovative Cancer Vaccine Is Finally Coming to America

Sarah Zhang in The Atlantic:

ScreenHunter_2371 Nov. 15 23.40Last week, in a historic first, a box of water made it from Havana to Buffalo, New York. It was roundabout journey, since you can’t just FedEx a box from Cuba to the U.S. (The embargo, no commercial cargo flights, etc.) The box flew first to Toronto. Customs brokers then escorted it across the U.S.-Canada border to its final destination at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

Why such a production for a box of water? It was the test run for a promising lung-cancer vaccine called CIMAvax, which was developed in Cuba and soon will begin clinical trials in the U.S. But no one in America has ever run a clinical trial with Cuban drugs, and no one was even sure, logistically, how to ship fragile cargo between the two countries. (Again, the embargo, no commercial cargo flights.) So the researchers devised a roundabout route and tested it with this box of water. “We actually wanted them to ship a box of beer,” joked Kelvin Lee, an immunologist at Roswell who helped forge the Cuban collaboration, “but it turned out to be too complicated.”

This shipment came, of course, at a time of thawing relations between U.S. and Cuba. The embargo is still in place—only Congress can vote to lift it—but the Obama administration has been issuing executive actions easing restrictions on trade and travel to the country. Last month, the administration made it easier to carry out joint U.S.-Cuban medical research, and the Food and Drug Administration promptly followed by approving clinical trials for the Cuban lung-cancer vaccine at Roswell.

CIMAvax is so interesting, scientifically speaking, because it belongs to a new class of cancer treatments called immunotherapy.

More here.