Why the Cuban Lung Cancer Vaccine is Stuck in Cuba

Thomas Howell, Op-Ed Editor

Cuba is notorious for producing cigars and has the second largest area of tobacco plants in the world. It is then no surprise that lung cancer is fourth leading cause of death in Cuba, claiming the lives of thousands of people each year. For years Cuba has been researching a cure for lung cancer to keep alive those who drive their tobacco industry, and in 2011, Cuban scientists developed a vaccine called ClimaVax. This vaccine was designed to trigger the immune system of the patient to produce an antibody that would combat a cancer causing hormone called epidermal growth factor (EGF). This antibody attacks the EGF hormones and works to prevent the formation of tumors which could prevent a patient from developing lung cancer in the first place. While this vaccine has been proven to work as an effective treatment and preventative measure to combat lung cancer, it is certainly not a cure, but with further development, this drug could extend the life expectancy of cancer patients all around the world and prevent millions of people from developing lung cancer.

In 1962, John F. Kennedy signed the embargo on Cuba that placed economic sanctions on the communist nation. In order for the embargo to be lifted, Cuba must transition to democracy and improve its human rights situation. This embargo still exists today since Cuba has not met these requirements, so ClimaVax is not travelling very fast. The vaccine is currently only used in Cuba and, due to the economic sanctions on Cuba, other countries are only allowed to use the drug in lab research, but are not permitted to administer it to patients. In addition, this application process can take months and research can take years, so this lung cancer vaccine will not be available to patients outside of Cuba for many years to come. This breakthrough in medical research has been stifled by economic sanctions and cancer patients around the world will continue to die each year without access to this drug, so perhaps it is time to lift the embargo on Cuba.