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The Cuban governments decision are to boost the development of biotechnology
At the beginning it was only a small group of researchers working in a modest laboratory of Havanas National Institute of Oncology and Radiobiology (INOR). Using practically traditional techniques, they produced the countrys first monoclonal antibodies at the end of the 1980s.

According to Dr. Agustin Lage, the fate of that group of workers was sealed on September 29, 1989, when Cuban president Fidel Castro visited INOR and expressed: Were going to remodel and expand the areas where you work, but think about designing a project to build a much larger facility.

Two years later and amid the beginning of the "special economic period" "brought on by the disappearance of the Soviet Union and European Socialist Bloc", what seemed to be a utopia became a reality, when construction began of a new locale located on the west side of the Cuban capital.

Despite the complex situation, the Cuban governments decision was to boost the development of biotechnology. Thus, during the worst moment of the islands economic crisis, on December 5, 1994, the Center of Molecular Immunology (CIM) was inaugurated.

CIM founding director Dr. Agustin Lage notes that Cuban biotechnology has the special characteristic of being a forerunner, beginning at the precise moment this science was taking its first steps in the United States and the world.

"We were the first ones to jump on that bandwagon of new knowledge. Other distinctive features of Cuban biotechnology are the implementation, from the beginning, of the concept that all work places involved had to work a complete cycle (research-production), integrate cooperation among them, and achieve results of great impact on the national health care system."

Based on those premises, CIM is today one of the emblematic institutions of our national biotechnology industry. It is mainly devoted to basic research and the development and production of new products to diagnose and treat cancer, based on the culturing of superior cells from mammals and according to regulations established for good manufacturing practices.

According to Dr. Rolando Perez, CIM research and development director, the center is presently working on 24 research projects linked in some cases to the assimilation of technologies and, in others, to the generation of innovative products, such as therapeutic monoclonal antibodies and therapeutic vaccines against cancer.

In the first group we find the Human Recombinant Erythropoyetin to treat anemia due to chronic kidney failure and other causes. The production of these glycoproteins satisfies the countrys demands and at present they are the Centers main export item, through its marketing company, CIMAB S.A.

For its work the CIM obtained the National Prize for Exporters in 2006, in the large company category.

Included in the second group we find the hR3 monoclonal antibody (commercially known as Nimutuzumab or CIMAHER), used for the treatment of various tumors. The two products are registered in Cuba and in other countries.

Dr. Perez pointed out that the therapeutic vaccines against cancer are a priority, since every year some 19,000 people die on the island as a consequence of that illness, while 29,000 new cases are detected annually.

The purpose of these vaccines, assured the Cuban physician, is to stimulate the patients immunological system, so it generates its own antibodies against the tumor. With this treatment, we intend to act on the evolution of the tumor and block its growth and development. The final objective of this type of innovative immunotherapy is to turn the advanced carcinoma into a chronic disease that can be controlled, like happens with high blood pressure or diabetes.

If we could achieve this purpose in a cancer patient in stage three or four, and even with metastasis, he or she could live a number of years with a good quality of life, added Dr. Perez. This could have a real impact in the increase of survival rates.

At the end of 2007, three vaccines (which have not been registered yet) for the treatment of advanced lung, breast, and prostate tumors "three leading causes of death in Cuba", are in the clinical trial stage.

Until December, the new results generated by CIM had 180 patents obtained abroad, while its products of proved excellence, originality, efficiency and competitiveness are registered in 36 nations.

One of the most relevant pieces of news from the Center for Molecular Immunology during 2007 was the approval in the United States of a clinical trial with the Nimotuzumab or CIMAHER monoclonal antibody for the treatment of advanced head, neck, and brain tumors in pediatric patients.

Dr. Tania Crombet, head of the Clinical Research Department, and one of the main authors of that promising contribution of Cuban science, affirmed that CIMAHER acts against the recipient of the Epidermal Growth Factor and inhibits the growth of the malignant tumor. Combined with radiotherapy, its use produces a significant reduction of the size of the tumor in a high percentage of cases, besides increasing life expectancy and the quality of life.

In spite of the fact that its availability is still insufficient to meet the demand (a new production plant is now under construction at the center), some 1,500 Cuban patients have been treated with this anti-tumor product applied by injection. CIMAHER is more tolerable since it doesnt have the unwanted side effects of other forms of therapy.

Clinical trials with CIMAHER also began in Japan in 2007, and a dossier for its registration was presented to the European Regulatory Agency. Altogether, 38 of the 52 clinical trials carried out with CIM products last year took place in Cuba, while 14 took place in other countries.

Dr. Crombet points out that the support and cooperation from the multidisciplinary groups, made up by oncologists and other specialists from various hospitals and health centers, were vital during the research process of this monoclonal antibody produced by means of genetic engineering and of other medicines against cancer.

Dr. Agustin Lage notes that apart from the more than 200 research centers in Cuba and many highly qualified professionals in this field; the most important thing is that Cuban science is permanently committed to the population, in its daily task of producing new knowledge and technologies.


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