US can’t ignore Cuba’s advances in health

The US is under pressure from sections of its ruling class to moderate the blockade of Cuba. In November, a high-level science delegation travelled to Cuba to ‘explore research issues and multilateral science values that might be conducive to US-Cuba scientific cooperation’. The delegation included Anthony Rock, CEO of the Association of Science-Technology Centers and former acting Assistant Secretary of State for Science, Technology, Environment and Health Affairs, and professor Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to ex-Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005.

In September, a Cuban drug aimed at combating cancer, Nimotuzumab  – monoclonal antibody (mAb) therapy, where the mAb is developed to specifically bind to target cells – underwent clinical trials in the US. This is a first, since previously US and British pharmaceutical companies have tested Cuban drugs in the US but not carried out clinical trials.

Ironically, if the clinical trials prove successful, the US blockade will mean that Nimotuzumab cannot be sold in the US, because 20% is ownedå by the Center of Molecular Immunology, the biotechnological institution in Havana that developed the drug (and which channels all financial benefits back to the Cuban state).

The US regulatory body, the Food and Drug Administration, has approved mAb drugs for treating neck and head cancers, manufactured by Biotech Pharmaceutical in Beijing, for use in the US.

In September 2005, a year after the visit of Hu Jintao (General Secretary of the Communist Party of China) to Cuba, two factories for producing recombinant vaccines using Cuban technology started up, one of them in Changchun in China’s northeastern Jilin province and one in Beijing. ‘We put in the science, production and quality and our Chinese colleagues sell, administer and take care of marketing,’ said Eduardo Ojito, the Cuban head of production. According to Biotech Pharmaceutical director Xianhong Bai. ‘Many Chinese companies choose foreign partners...Cuba is a country with a special view of technology’

This September, Cuba and China renewed, for a further five years, an existing memorandum of intent for mutually beneficial biotechnological cooperation between the two countries.

Cuba’s dedication to science as a social product and not one for private profit has resulted in the tiny blockaded island being at the forefront of medical research. The US can no longer ignore its success, and US interest exposes the absurd contradictions of the blockade itself.

Charles Chinweizu

FRFI 212 December 2009 / January 2010


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