Racotumomab (trade name Vaxira) is a non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) vaccine developed by researchers at the Center of Molecular Immunology, Cuba in collaboration with researchers from the Buenos Aires University, Argentina with promising results. It was granted certificate of approval by the State Center for Quality Control of Medicines of Cuba and by January, 2013 was used as the primary treatment for NSCLC.
Lung cancer is one of the four most common cancers worldwide along with breast, bowel and prostate cancers and is the leading cancer in men. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2012 it was responsible for 1.59 million deaths globally.
In Cuba, cancer is the major cause of death after cardiovascular disease. This fact coupled with the devastating effect of the embargo on Cuba, forced the Cuban government to administer an all inclusive and far reaching national cancer plan on all levels of health services. In an article titled Cuba – Battling cancer with biotechnology, WHO asserted that, even in the most economic hardship, “Cuban researchers and scientists have made significant progress in their search for new cancer treatments and tools to improve diagnosis and prevention”. Dr. Agustin Lage Davila, General Director at Center of Molecular Immunology, stated that the aim of biotechnology is to convert a “deadly disease into a chronic one……Our drugs make chemo and radiation therapies more effective and less toxic. This helps us to achieve our ultimate goal: a longer life and a better quality life for our patients.”
Vaccines have long been in use to stimulate the immune system’s ability to protect and help the body against foreign agents, mostly viral or bacterial, that cause infections and diseases. The idea of vaccines for cancer treatment stems from the understanding that just as the immune system works in protecting the body from viral and bacterial infections it also protects the body from cancer by detecting the cancerous cells and in many cases, destroying them. Unfortunately, at time the cancerous cells suppress the immune system or hide from it and at other times cancerous cells overwhelm the immune system due to their large number. Cancer vaccines work in similar fashion to other vaccines by having the immune system recognize and take action against different types of cancers.
One such vaccine is Racotumomab which works by inducing a cellular and humoral immune response against NeuGc GM3 ganglioside found in several tumors tissues by blocking the tumor growth, slowing down its development and hence increasing patients’ life expectancy and improving the quality of life. Unlike traditional treatments for cancer with chemotherapy and radiation whereby healthy cells are attacked alongside cancerous ones, 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).
Racotumomab is the second vaccine for non-small cell lung cancer developed in Cuba after CimaVax EGF.