The will to promote science for health
Cuba has a solid biotechnology industry, capable of developing novel and innovative drugs that made possible to offer an effective response to COVID-19.
22 July, 2023 by
The will to promote science for health
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For decades, hundreds of companies and personalities around the world have been discovering the "implausible" reality that a small, underdeveloped Caribbean island state has such a solid biotechnology industry.

But it has been with the COVID-19 pandemic that big questions have come to the media's attention as never before: How can a country like Cuba contribute five vaccine candidates, three of them already vaccines, to the fight against the coronavirus? What is the basis for the island's successful response to COVID-19?

The answer lies behind a robust system of science and technological innovation. But it cannot be explained without taking into account the political will of a State that since the revolutionary triumph of January 1959 bet that this would be a country of women and men of science.

Science made for people

The fact is that Cuba is today at the forefront in the development of biotechnology among Third World countries. This sector boomed in the 1980s, when the nation had a critical mass of qualified experts, most of them trained under the educational reform promoted by the Revolution. Enormous investments were made to build and develop research institutions that gradually formed the so-called Scientific Pole, the embryo of the current business group BioCubaFarma, which groups together more than 30 scientific centers and companies.

The social impact of national biotechnological products can be practically found in any health area: from monoclonal antibodies against cancer, the different preventive and therapeutic vaccines obtained such as CIMAvax-EGF -the first registered therapeutic vaccine against lung cancer-; diagnostic technologies; drugs to combat viral diseases, organ transplant rejection, chronic non-communicable diseases and myocardial infarction; viral therapies against HIV/AIDS, and even diabetic foot ulcers, a condition for which Cuban science has developed a unique drug in the world, Heberprot-P, among other great results.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has also recognized that Cuba has become a world leader in South-South technology transfer.

Since 1989, nine Cuban inventions have received the WIPO gold medal and four WIPO trophies have been awarded to innovative Cuban centers for the successful management of intellectual property.

The vaccine experience

Despite the complexity of acquiring raw materials due to the restrictive measures of the U.S. blockade, the country produces eight of the ten vaccines commonly used in the National Immunization Program to protect against 13 diseases and sends hundreds of millions of doses abroad.

Three vaccines produced domestically stand out for their innovative nature: the world's first antimeningococcal B vaccine, effective against serogroup B meningococcus, developed in the late 1980s; the vaccine against hepatitis B, the first in Latin America to be qualified by the WHO and a very successful immunogen; and the vaccine against Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), the main causative agent of bacterial meningitis in the country, considered the first synthetic vaccine, through chemical synthesis.

It is not surprising that, when in March 2020 the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in Cuba, the Cuban biotechnology industry not only deployed its existing therapeutic arsenal, but also devoted itself to the task of obtaining its own vaccines against the coronavirus.

Procedures aimed at improving people's immune status were employed, with drugs such as Biomodulin T, interferon -recombinant alpha-2B and Heberferon-, transfer factor (Hebertrans). An immunomodulatory peptide such as Jusvinza and a monoclonal antibody, Itolizumab, proved to be essential in combating the so-called cytokine cascade or storm, one of the most feared complications of the disease.

At the same time, the Finlay Vaccine Institute (IFV) and the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB), together with other institutions, began the development of vaccine candidates based on technological platforms known as subunit vaccines.

Five projects saw the light of day in less than a year, three of them already converted into vaccines of proven efficacy and safety, Abdala, Soberana 02 and Soberana Plus, which met all the established ethical-regulatory standards.

Nowadays, Cuba is the country in the Americas that has managed to vaccinate, with own vaccines, at least one dose to the highest percentage of its population. As of July 19, 2023, according to data from the Ministry of Public Health,  10,027,544 people were fully vaccinated, which represents 90.8% of the Cuban population. It is also a pioneer nation in pediatric immunization of children between two and 18 years of age and has a strategy that covers all population groups, including convalescents.

Cuba has no secrets to reveal the reasons of this huge achievement in biotechnology. In any case, the only secret lies in wanting to do science with one purpose: healing and saving.

Taken from Destino Salud.

The will to promote science for health
CSMC, S.A 22 July, 2023
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