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Cuba has for several years had a promising therapeutic vaccine against lung cancer. The 55-year trade embargo led by the US made sure that Cuba was mostly where it stayed. Until—maybe—now.
The Obama administration has, of course, been trying to normalize relations with the island nation. And last month, during New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s visit to Havana, Roswell Park Cancer Institute finalized an agreement with Cuba’s Center for Molecular Immunology to develop a lung cancer vaccine and begin clinical trials in the US. Essentially, US researchers will bring the Cimavax vaccine stateside and get on track for approval by the Food and Drug Administration.
Cimavax works the same as any other vaccine—each dose delivers an innocuous fragment of what we want the immune system to target (virus, bacteria, and so on) along with chemicals that amp up the immune system. The vaccines we’re most familiar with protect us against pathogens that can infect us, like the measles virus.
Cimavax, though, directs the immune system’s defenses to target a protein that our own bodies produce called epidermal growth factor, which cancer cells attract and use to multiply. Blocking epidermal growth factor from reaching the cancerous cells won’t kill the cancer, but could stop it from growing and spreading. (It’s important to point out that Cimavax isn’t a preventative treatment—you can’t take a shot of it and continue smoking without fear of lung cancer.)
Cimavax could potentially slow or stop growth in other types of cancers as well. Now that it will have proper funding and clinical trials, this could be a very promising development in the fight against cancer.