The Guardian February 2, 2000


Cuba trials AIDS vaccine

by Lilliam Riera

At the 8th International Biotechnology Congress, held in Havana at the end 
of last year, it was the theme of new immunisation strategies, nowadays 
associated not only with prevention but also with the therapeutic treatment 
of diseases like cancer, AIDS and other immune-system deficiencies, that 
aroused the greatest interest.

The focus of the Congress was on biotechnology's medical applications.

The 2,000 delegates from around 40 countries were introduced to exclusive 
medicines and new medicaments from Cuba's Genetic Engineering and 
Biotechnology Centre (CIGB). CIGB products are exported world-wide through 
Cuba's Herber Biotec SA company.

CIGB has working links with over 40 countries in Latin America, Asia and 
Eastern Europe, and Herber Biotec has a worldwide market for recombinant 
streptokinase, the hepatitis B vaccine, interferon, and the epidermal 
growth factor, among other products.

It expects to incorporate Interleukine II, for cancer therapy into its 
export list for 2000.

AIDS, with its steadily rising fatalities and a growing number of diagnosed 
cases worldwide, is one example where a vaccine is becoming ever more 
urgent.

Cuba's figure of 2,621 infected persons (according to data from the Centre 
for the Prevention of Sexually Transmitted Diseases) is a low one in 
relation to other nations.

Researchers from the CIGB, the Pedro Kour' Institute of Tropical Medicine 
and the AIDS Research Laboratory have been working for seven years on the 
only candidate vaccine existing against this scourge in a Third World 
country.

Francisco Machado, CIGB's Deputy Director, says that the Cuban candidate 
vaccine, which has been improved over the last two years, will be submitted 
to further clinical trials in the last quarter of 2000.

Advances attained by science in genetic research, combined with the use of 
biochemical methods, have made it possible to speak of tests in the world 
of DNA candidate vaccines.

As distinct from traditional immunisation methods, where patients are 
inoculated with dead or attenuated virus microorganisms, this revolutionary 
new technique enables the immunogens to be manufactured in the cells of 
inoculated persons.

According to Jorge Gavilondo, chief researcher in immunology and 
diagnostics and the Congress' scientific coordinator, the CIGB's DNA 
candidate vaccines for hepatitis B and C have reached the pre-clinical 
phase with regulations for their application.

The Molecular Immunology Center (CIM), the newest entity within the 
scientific complex in the western part of Havana, is working on proteins. 
Recombinant erythropoietin  number one in the world ranking of 
biotechnological products  is also manufactured here.

Encouraged by results obtained in the treatment of anemia associated with 
renal deficiencies, given that it reduces the use of blood transfusions by 
increasing the number of red corpuscles, research is pressing ahead.

Monoclonal antibodies, utilised in the treatment of organ transplant 
rejection, in radioactive marking and in tumor detection, are among other 
products being manufactured in the centre, and are being used throughout 
the national health system, as well as being exported to ten countries.

* * *
Granma International

Back to index page