Thursday, May 14, 2015

Cuba's lung cancer vaccine is heading to the U.S. for clinical trials

Cuba's lung cancer vaccine is heading to the U.S. for clinical trials

Since Fidel Castro took power in Cuba in 1959, the communist nation has been known for, among other things, its "medical diplomacy" – sending doctors and medicine to far flung parts of the globe in order to foster goodwill and gain allies on the world stage.
But because of the long-standing embargo against Cuba, one of the few blank spots on the island's medical diplomatic list has been the United States. That, however, is changing quickly after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a number of business leaders from the state travelled to Cuba earlier this month on a trade mission.

During the trip, the Roswell Park Cancer Institute of Buffalo, New York signed an agreement to import a revolutionary Cuban lung cancer vaccine called CimaVax that helps treat symptoms and recurrence of the deadly disease.
"This vaccine is cheap to make, it is effective and it has no toxicity," Kelvin Lee, the chief of immunology at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, told Fox News Latino. "It will treat people with lung cancer and could potentially prevent cancer in people who don't already have it."
The drug was developed by the Cuban government-run Molecular Immunology Center in the 1990s and, despite being reported on by various medical and media organizations across the globe, Havana has kept its success a closely guarded secret.
Talks about using CimaVax in the U.S. only began back in 2011 when Roswell Park opened up an academic exchange with their colleagues in Cuba.
A number of policies regarding U.S.-Cuban relations have been rewritten under the administration of President Barack Obama – not to mention last December's announcement that the Cold War-foes would restart diplomatic relations – that have allowed for this joint research to occur.
While the vaccine is a long way from hitting the American market, doctors at Roswell Park hope to get Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to begin clinical trials within eight months and soon after partner with a private company to develop the drug for U.S. patients. 
Along with the work taking place in upstate New York, Cuban scientists will also visit Buffalo to help with testing and research.
"The goal is to test it safely and ethically here in the U.S," the institute's director Candace Johnson told FNL.
The drug is already the market in Cuba, where it has treated around 1,000 people for lung cancer, and has been used on a total of 5,000 patients around the globe.
One of the major reasons why Cuba developed the vaccine was that it is n
Despite universal healthcare in Cuba, the country's struggling economic situation and global isolation have made it difficult to maintain medical procedures like long-term chemotherapy – making CimaVax a promising alternative to pricier treatments.
"Plus it has less side-effects than a flu shot," Lee said.
Once the drug is approved for clinical trials, medical researchers in both the U.S. and Cuba are interested in seeing if the vaccine can be used to treat others forms of cancer beside lung cancer. 
Cuban researchers have focused on lung cancer given their limited financial resources and the fact that lung cancer is the most prevalent form of the disease on the island.
"Cuba has not tested it on other types of cancer, but it could potentially be used to treat skin, brain, colon and other forms of the disease," Lee added.
For medical researchers at Roswell Park the biggest challenge will be convincing U.S. authorities to allow this product to be tested in the country. But once they clear that hurdle, Lee said, it will be much easier to begin testing other types of vaccines and medicines developed in Cuba.
"They've got a lot of really cool products in Cuba and a lot to offer us," Lee said. "To us, this is not a one-off conversation but a continuing effort between us and Cuba."

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Emerging research in cancer

Cancer Management is an evolving area of medicine that is benefiting from new thinking and new approaches. That’s why you may be hearing a lot about different ongoing research topics through the media, in hospital advertisements, or in conversation.

Here are some of the current areas of research in lung cancer

Research in immuno-oncology

Immuno-oncology continues to be an emerging field and is currently being researched for lung cancer. Immuno-oncology works with the body’s own immune system to help fight cancer.
When the immune system detects a foreign agent in the body, it signals a process to eliminate it. This is how our body gets rid of things like colds and flu. Recognizing that the immune system could possibly do the same thing to cancer cells led researchers on a path to understanding how cancer is able to avoid being detected and attacked. Researchers have focused on ways to help the immune system do a better job at recognizing cancer and do what it was meant to do—search and attack it.

Research on genes

An understanding of genetic science continues to improve and with it comes a better understanding of how genes (or parts of genes) may cause cancer. This is a broad area of research that includes many different types of clinical studies.
Ongoing research is looking at biomarkers, or different types of genes and proteins, to see if certain genes are changed or are seen at higher or lower levels in people with lung cancer compared to those without lung cancer. The aim of biomarker research is to find which genes or proteins might play a role in lung cancer development, or whether they may affect a person's prognosis or response to cancer therapy. Other approaches are looking at the effects of changing the levels of certain genes or proteins in people with lung cancer, and whether that might affect lung cancer treatment.
This field of study also includes epigenetics (which means "above" the gene). Epigenetics is shedding light on how nutrition and other environmental factors affect how genes are expressed. It's also helping researchers understand new ways to treat cancer.
Another field of study, gene therapy research, has also been used in a small number of clinical trials. There are different ways to use gene therapy. One way is to replace missing or defective genes that cause cancer with healthy genes. Other approaches include injecting cancer cells with genes that may make the tumor more receptive to cancer therapy.

Research on lung cancer screening and risk factors

There is ongoing research on new ways to detect lung cancer as well as the reasons behind who is at risk for lung cancer and how lung cancer develops. Continued developments in this area will help others benefit from early detection and treatment, and will help to raise awareness for people living with lung cancer.

Research on quality of life and outcomes

Studies are trying to find out what factors can help improve quality of life and outcomes for patients with lung cancer. Health-related quality of life is usually measured using surveys, where patients report on aspects of their physical and mental health. A better understanding of factors that affect the quality of life of people with lung cancer can result in improved social, mental, and medical services.
Inform the ones you love that there may be an appropriate lung cancer clinical trial worth investigating.

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