A Cancer Vaccine from Cuba? What the U.S. Can Expect
Just a few days before the unexpected election of Republican billionaire Donald Trump to succeed President Barack Obama, medical journalists described the journey of an interesting parcel from Cuba to the United States.
The aforementioned parcel, which originated in Havana and was shipped to Buffalo, contained bottled water and was received by a medical research institute. In the near future, researchers are hopeful that a similar parcel shipped from Cuba could contain a vaccine to prevent lung cancer.
While the scenario above may read as if it comes from a screen adaption of a novel to be filmed as a medical thriller, the reality is that the renewal of diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba may open up a promising world of biomedical research that would include clinical trials of cancer vaccines.
Cuba, Diplomacy and the Embargo
The aforementioned parcel delivery of bottled water was actually shipped first to Toronto, where U.S. Customs officers were already expecting it so that it could be escorted to Buffalo. This was not a violation of the American embargo against Cuba because the Obama administration has eased many restrictions.
What researchers at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute are hoping for is that the next time they see U.S. Customs officers arrive, they will have a box of CIMAvax.
Medical research efforts between the U.S. and Cuba are part of the easements that have taken place over the last couple of years. Cuban health scientists have been working with European and Latin American researchers for years, and their American counterparts have been hearing about great advances that the U.S. has been missing on due to the embargo.
Cuban Biomedical Research
For most of 2016, American medical researchers have been learning about some very interesting accomplishments by their Cuban peers, who in the 1980s developed an actual vaccine to prevent meningitis. Using this successfully proven vaccine, Cuban researchers have been working on immunotherapy to treat cancer.
How can Cuban scientists be so far advanced in their cancer research? Full government support is part of the answer; the rest of the explanation is that Cuban scientists are not subject to pharmaceutical interests, and thus they can operate with great flexibility. It is also important to remember that many other nations have normal diplomatic relations with Cuba, Germany and Spain come to mind, and these nations have been helping Cuba with several projects.
Undoing American Diplomacy With Cuba
The U.S. Congress has not voted to lift the embargo; however, they have not complained too much about the White House initiatives to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba, and the prospect of collaborating with something as promising as cancer vaccines is something that Members of Congress have positively reacted to.
Enter the Trump administration: one of the most concerning talking points delivered by Donald Trump as he campaigned in Miami was to reverse all the work that the Obama White House has accomplished with regard to Cuban diplomacy.
Could the Trump White House freeze something as vital as cancer vaccines from being developed in the U.S. just because it needs to deliver on a campaign promise? This may sound crazy, but it is plausible. Rolling back diplomacy efforts with Cuba could be done by the Executive Branch. Nonetheless, the plans that President elect Donald Trump has to “drain the swamp,” which means eliminating lobbyists from the White House, could work against him as he reverses diplomacy with Cuba.
The White House is but a component of American governance. Actively petitioning the U.S. Congress, the act of lobbying, has been used to freeze White House initiatives. If the Trump administration kills an ongoing cancer vaccine trial, the scientific lobby could react with force. Should this be the case, a Trump White House devoid of lobbyists would not stand a chance.
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