The U.S. Roswell Park Cancer Institute will collaborate with with Cuba's Center for Molecular Immunology (CIM) on trial testing a vaccine that could improve the survivability and quality of life of lung cancer patients.
On Oct .27, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York announced that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had given the Buffalo-based Roswell Park Cancer Institute permission to launch a test trial of the CIMAvax-EFG vaccine, The New York Times reports.
The trial will last for three years and involve 60 to 90 patients. Scientists will test to see if coupling the Cuban vaccine with the immunotherapy drug Opdivo will boost its effectiveness on lung cancer patients.
“This groundbreaking trial at Roswell Park is the result of our historic partnership with Cuba, and is a testament to New York’s storied legacy as a national leader in progress and innovation,” Cuomo said, according to New York State.
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The CIMAvax-EFG vaccine was developed by CIM, which was established in Cuba in 1980. The treatment is not a conventional vaccine. Instead of inoculating patients against potentially developing lung cancer, it stunts the growth of tumors, making it a therapeutic vaccine, according to CNN.
One trial found that lung cancer patients under the age of 60 given the vaccine had their life expectancy extended by an average 11 months.
“Cuban science has taken a completely novel approach to immunotherapy, and they have developed totally different solutions,” Thomas Schwaab, the chief of strategy, business development and outreach of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, told Science Magazine.
On Oct. 17, the U.S. finalized new regulations that would allow U.S. scientists to collaborate with Cuba for the first time in decades. After half a century under U.S. embargo, Cuban scientists have developed 70 percent of their own medications and produced unique vaccines to address 21 different diseases.
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Research director Pedro Valdes-Sosa of CIM has called the loosening regulations a “very important step.”
Valdes-Sosa, who visited the U.S. in September, added: “[Everywhere] I went there were concrete ideas for collaborations that would benefit the people of both countries. These new measures pave the way for cooperation.”
Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, has warned his peers to temper expectations of how effective the CIMAvax-EFG vaccine could prove to be.
According to The Washington Post, he went on to say that “currently we do not have the information we need to have to know whether or not this vaccine could be useful in treating lung cancer or possibly be used to prevent cancer in patients at high risk of developing lung cancer. The studies that have been reported from Cuba are small and have limitations that prevent us from knowing how the treatment could be applied to the typical patient with lung cancer.”
The deputy chief medical officer concluded that that uncertainty made “well-designed clinical trials all the more important.”