Yesterday Cuban scientists announced a vaccine to extend the lives of lung cancer sufferers would be made available to the Cuban Health Service. Speaking in Havana, Gisela Gonzalez said the product, called CimaVax EGF, is the first registered vaccine in the world designed to battle lung cancer. The drug could add five months to a lung cancer sufferer’s life. Gonzales, who heads the medical team that developed the compound, said the vaccine is based on proteins that trigger an immune response from the patient's body and has few side effects compared to chemotherapy because it's a modified protein that attacks only cancer cells.
The CimaVax EGF vaccine is available in Cuba, and will be commercialised in Latin America, starting in Peru. Advanced clinical tests are happening at 18 Cuban hospitals on 579 lung cancer victims. Other tests were carried out in Canada and Britain, while tests are scheduled in Malaysia, Peru, and China. The EGF in the name stands for Epidermal Growth Factor (EGF) which is a protein capable of stimulating cellular proliferation but is also a cancer risk. The vaccine links it to another protein that helps the immune system to create the desired immune response against the EGF. The effect is a decrease in tumour growth.
The vaccine has been developed by Havana’s Centre of Molecular Immunology (CIM). The centre’s mission is to produce biopharmaceuticals products to be used in cancer treatments in the Cuban Public Healthcare System. Its products include antibodies for use in organ transplant rejection, treatments for anemia, the blood disorder neutropenia, and tumour imaging as well as antibodies that recognise growth factor receptors for cancer treatment. The centre is part of Cuba's thriving state-run biotechnology sector which includes 50 research and development centres and is one of the most advanced in the developing world.
People from outside Cuba are welcome to come to the island to seek the treatment. The center’s director of clinical investigations, Tania Crombet, said "it's possible to provide this vaccine to any patient, because it's available in Cuba, it's approved by the Cuban drug agency so we can market the vaccine in Cuba and we can receive patients from outside," she said. However she said that the US would be the exception as Americans are restricted from travelling to Cuba travel by the US trade embargo against Cuba in place since 1962. "Even though there is a new therapeutic tool approved in Cuba they probably wouldn't be able to come to Cuba to receive it because of the embargo," Crombet said.
The drug has been approved for clinical trial in the US, but its possible use there is at least two to three years away. In the meantime 160,000 Americans will die of lung cancer annually. Lung cancer is a malignant tumour in the tissue of one or both lungs and is primarily a disease of older people. It is unusual in people under 40 and the risk increases substantially after the age of 50. Smoking causes 90 percent of all known cases. Currently the main treatments are surgery if detected early, or otherwise radiotherapy and chemotherapy. The new vaccine does not prevent cancer but is therapeutic and consolidates the effect of radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Doctor Elia Neninger, oncologist participating in the project, said its benefit was that it lacked any side effects and also contributes to reduce the prevailing symptoms of the ailment. That will be good news for the cancer’s million sufferers worldwide.