Biotech Venture Between U.S. and Cuba to Develop New Cancer Treatments

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced the formation of the first-ever biotech venture between the U.S. and Cuba. Buffalo-based Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and Havana-based Centro de Inmunología Molecular (CIM) formed Innovative Immunotherapy Alliance S.A. to develop pioneering immunotherapies not widely studied or available outside of Cuba. The joint venture aims to advance the research and development of new cancer drugs that may prolong survival rates and quality of life for thousands of cancer patients.

The new joint venture will for the first time give American researchers access to CIMAvax-EGF and three other Cuban-developed cancer drugs that were not previously available in the U.S. The four Cuban developed immunotherapies are designed to augment the body’s defense system to fight cancer.

CIMAvax-EGF is an immunotherapy treatment for lung cancer. The drug works by blocking a type of protein, epidermal growth factor (EGF), that is needed by cancer cells to grow. In Cuba, lung cancer patients treated with CIMAvax-EGF live longer with an improved quality of life and minimal side effects. Researchers believe that CIMAvax-EGF may also prove effective in treating colon, head and neck, prostate, breast and pancreatic cancers, as well as for the prevention of certain cancers.

Governor Cuomo said, “This historic venture with Cuba will provide Roswell Park access to innovative cancer-fighting drugs that could revolutionize treatments and put us one step closer to eliminating the threat of cancer once and for all.”

Roswell Park President and CEO Candace S. Johnson, PhD, said, “This is a momentous step forward on one of our most significant undertakings. With the establishment of this company, we are entering a critical new phase of Roswell Park’s collaboration with these innovative Cuban scientists. Our goal is to develop these promising cancer therapies as quickly and effectively as possible so that they can benefit the greatest number of U.S. patients.”

Thomas Schwaab, MD, PhD, Chief of Strategy, Business Development and Outreach at Roswell Park, said, “It’s incredibly rewarding to see our collaboration reach this crucial juncture. Innovative Immunotherapy Alliance S.A. will provide the support, expertise and infrastructure that will make it possible for Roswell Park to study these drugs and get them to U.S. patients. We believe these unique immunotherapies have the potential to change the landscape of cancer treatment, and we are proud to partner with our CIM colleagues to advance development of these therapies as quickly and effectively as possible.”

Innovative Immunotherapy Alliance S.A., will be based in Cuba and will be operated jointly by CIM affiliate, CIMAB S.A., and by a Roswell Park subsidiary, GBCT II LLC. Roswell Park holds a license from the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) that permits preclinical and clinical research using these medical therapies.

Jose A. Aquino (@JoseAquinoEsq on Twitter) is a special counsel in the New York office of Duane Morris LLP, and a member of the Duane Morris Cuba Business Group. This blog is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s law firm or its individual attorneys.