Cuba's calling vaccine researchers as U.S. clears a path for R&D collaborations

After a decades-long embargo, the United States is loosening restrictions on Cuba--and that's opening up cross-border collaborations in vaccine research.

Kicked off on Monday, the new setup will clear the way for U.S. and Cuban researchers to collaborate in a variety of disease areas, including lung cancer, Zika, chikungunya and dengue, Science reports. A Cuban-made lung cancer vaccine, CimaVax, could get an immediate boost; the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, NY, will be working to move it into U.S. trials.

Scientists at the Center of Molecular Immunology in Havana developed CimaVax, which so far has been used in 5,000 patients worldwide. The vaccine uses a “completely novel approach to immunotherapy,” Thomas Schwaab, Roswell Park’s chief of strategy, business development and outreach told the magazine.

Kelvin Lee, Director of Immunology at Roswell Park, described the vaccine in a post following a trip to Cuba and a subsequent announcement that the institute would partner to develop the vaccine in the U.S.

“The bottom line is that this vaccine works and the ease of administration (a shot in the shoulder once per month) combined with the inexpensive cost could make it a very attractive option in the United States,” Lee wrote.

But Roswell Park doesn’t anticipate CimaVax to be the only vaccine to make its way to the U.S. through the partnership. In March, Lee reported that the institute is “on track to acquire a second, and equally exciting, cancer vaccine,” from CIM, dubbed racotumomab.

CimaVax is “blazing a trail for every other vaccine that follows” between the partners, Lee said. The office of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo organized that 2015 trade visit to Cuba; Regeneron CEO Len Schleifer joined the trip.

Elsewhere, cancer vaccines have had a troubled history, with several high-profile failures prompting researchers to explore whether combos with checkpoint inhibitors can yield better results. Big Pharmas Bristol-Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca have all signed deals in the field with biotechs Bavarian Nordic, Aduro and TapImmune.

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