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April 7, 2020

Promising approach

Opinion

April 7, 2020

In 1991, I headed a UNDP mission of Latin American physicians to evaluate a national Cuban project involving the use of interferon to treat inoperable lung cancer. At the time, there was a rumor that Fidel Castro had lung cancer and had a particular interest in the research about it.

Castro showed his interest, in part, when he came to visit us

and discussed the findings. At the time, interferon didn’t seem to have a significant effect, but Cuban doctors have now developed a new treatment for lung cancer that offers promising results.

In September of 2011, the Chinese press agency Xinhua reported that Cuban doctors had produced the first therapeutic vaccine for lung cancer called CIMAvax-EGF. It was the result of a 25-year research project at Havana’s Center for Molecular Immunology. Although the vaccine doesn’t prevent lung cancer from developing in new patients, it turns later-stage lung cancer, specifically non-small-cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC) into a controllable chronic disease.

The vaccine contains a protein called epidermal growth factor (EGF). This substance stimulates the growth of cells and causes the tumors to multiply and grow uncontrollably. The vaccine contains EGF and a protein from the meningitis bacteria which enter into the bloodstream of patients and encourage their immune system to produce antibodies that suppress the effects of EGF.

As a result, the vaccine doesn’t eliminate the tumors but prevents them from growing and spreading to other parts of the body. The vaccine is given to people who already have lung cancer and where the traditional treatments have proven to be ineffective. For these types of patients, the vaccine could be a life saver.

The vaccine, which is now available in Cuba, Colombia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Peru and Paraguay, is relatively cheap to produce and store, and produces only very mild side effects such as nausea, chills, fever, and lack of energy. There are now agreements to test it in the United States, Japan, and some European countries.

Initial trials have shown a trend towards longer survival among vaccinated test subjects. Also, a direct correlation has been found between the level of antibodies that a vaccinated patient has produced against EGF and survival. Other trials have shown that those under 60 benefit the most in terms of survival. However, researchers caution that some early positive results to date have been found in relatively few cancer patients who were carefully selected and given special oncology care. They may not represent all the patients who could benefit from this vaccine.

Trials are currently being planned in the United States, Japan, the European Union and Serbia. In late October 2016, the US FDA authorized the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center to conduct a Phase I/II clinical trial of CIMAvax in patients with non-small cell lung cancer.

Excerpted from: ‘Cuba’s Promising Approach to Cancer’.

Counterpunch.org