Cancer is a group of more than 100 diseases whereby cell division and growth is abnormal and uncontrolled. In very simplified terms, normally cells divide, grow and die in a very regulated and controlled fashion and as needed by the body. Cancer develops when cells start to grow in an unconstrained and unsuppressed manner due to damage or alteration in the genetic makeup of the cell. That is, rather than dying and being replaced by new healthy cells, cancer cells continue to grow and multiply forming more and more abnormal cells that create lumps or masses of tissue called tumours. Not only can tumours release hormones that have a negative effect on the body but they can also replace normal tissue and interfere with the digestive, nervous and circulatory system. Metastatic cancer is when cancer cells spread to other parts of the body and start to develop new tumours with cells from the primary tumour. Thus, if cancer originates in the breast and metastasizes to the lung, the cancer cells in the lungs are breast cancer cells. However, not all tumours are considered harmful. Benign tumours are noncancerous and often not life-threatening though some might grow large enough to cause local pressure and may be uncomfortable. Also, some cancers, such as leukemia do not usually form tumours rather cancer does not allow normal blood forming and blood function.
Treatment In Cuba
Cuba has long been recognized as a leader in the area of health care and has become world renown in medicine and medical training, with a large number of scientists who are well respected by foreign peers for the developments of such vaccines as meningitis B and hepatitis B. The Cuban government and Cuban researchers have in the last 30 years pushed biotechnology and immunotherapy (also known as biotherapy or biological therapy) to the forefront. According to the World Health Organization, Cuban researchers in biotechnology have made very important advancement in the development of new cancer prevention tools and treatments with emphasis on transferring cancer from a deadly disease to a chronic one. It is believed that cancer cells are naturally and frequently found in the body but are usually wiped out by the immune system and only become life threatening when the immune system cannot differentiate between healthy and unhealthy cells Immunotherapy treatment for cancer stimulates the immune system to fight cancerous cells and to control cancer growth. It has a further benefit in that it aids chemotherapy and radiotherapy by making them more effective and less toxic hence increasing patient’s life expectancy and improving quality of life.
By 2013, Cuba biotechnology centers has 1200 international patents (including Nimotuzumab or CIMAher for head and neck cancer as well as the gastrointestinal (GI) tract cancer), CIMAVAX-EGF and Racotumomab or Vaxira (for non-small cell lung cancer). It also markets pharmaceutical products and vaccines in more than 50 countries and is currently testing 90 new products in more than 60 clinical trials.
- Nimotuzumab (CIMAher)
For cancers that have an overexpression of EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor) targeting therapy with anti-EGFR antibodies remain the only non-chemotherapy treatment against it. One such drug that has been gaining international recognition is Nimotuzumab developed by the Center of Molecular immunology in Cuba. Though it’s not the only one of it’s kind, it is safe to say that researchers at the center were globally the first to research and develop anti-EGFR antibodies.
Nimotuzumab is a humanized monoclonal antibody which is an antibody made by combining human antibody with a mouse or rat monoclonal (clone from a single cell) antibody. Unlike its competitors, Nimotuzumab has a greater number of human like epitopes (the part of the antigen -in this case, cancer cells- that the antibodies bind to) attached to the mouse or rat monoclonal antibody. It has specific ability to recognize, bind and disable the EGFR receptors. Since the overexpression of EGFR is confined for the most part to the tumour cells, and since Nimotuzumab is mainly active at the site of the tumour side effects are very minimal, so much so that it is the first cancer vaccine to be used on children.
Nimotuzumab is administered as monotherapy or in combination with radiotherapy and chemotherapy, increasing survival time and quality of life. It is a very well tolerated medication even with prolonged treatment and is approved for the treatment of patients with advanced cancer of head and neck as well as high-grade malignant glioma in adults and children and in advanced esophageal cancer.
CimaVax-EGF is the world’s first stage 3 and stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) vaccine developed in Cuba by the Center for Molecular Immunology and the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology. It works by stimulating the immune system to produce antibodies that are specifically targeted for and bind to epidermal growth factor (EGF) a protein found naturally in the body and is responsible for signaling cells to divide and grow. In certain types of cancers the body produces too much EGF forcing the cells to grow and divide uncontrollably. CimaVax-EGF is not a preventive vaccine, rather it acts by restraining the growth and division of cancer cells slowing down its development converting a late stage lung cancer into a chronic disease.
CimaVax-EGF is given after chemotherapy and radiation have been administered. It is well tolerated and has few side effects
This vaccine is in the trial process in the Uk, Canada, China and Peru and is in the process of approval in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Paraguay. Furthermore, in the end of April, 2015 Roswell Park Cancer Institute, a US based cancer research center, has signed an agreement with the Molecular Immunology Center of Cuba to begin clinical trials for CimaVax-EGF.
- Racotumomab (Vaxira®)
Racotumomab is the second non-small cell cancer (NSCLC) vaccine developed by the Center of Molecular Immunology in Cuba and has been used as the primary treatment for NSCLC in Cuba since January, 2013.
Racotumomab works by activating a cellular and humoral immune response against NeuGc GM3 ganglioside present in some tumors tissues by blocking the tumor growth and slowing down it’s development and hence increasing patient’s life expectancy and improving quality of life. Since NeuGc GM3 is not only found in lung cancer cells but also in breast cancer cells, in melanoma cells and neuroectodermal pediatric tumor cells it is hoped that this medication can be used as part of the treatment for such cancers. Racotumomab is presently being tested in a large multinational clinical trial.
Racotumomab is a well tolerated cancer treatment with the most common side effect is burning in the arm and slight pain in the injection area as well as a possibility of asthenia (physical weakness or lack of energy).
*Please note that Cuba continues to follow the standard treatment for cancer by using surgery, radiation and chemotherapy in combination with immunotherapy. Treatment however is determined by the type, stage of cancer and patient’s overall health.