In 2016, the U.S. loosened its trade embargo on Cuba that has been in place since the 1960s, and this has great implications for the lung cancer community. Cuba’s Center of Molecular Immunology has developed a vaccine for lung cancer, called CIMAVax, which has been available to the Cuban citizens since 2011. Since the embargo has changed and pharmaceuticals can now be imported from Cuba, researchers in the U.S. can begin clinical trials on CIMAVax. CIMAVax has already been tested in other countries, including in Europe and Asia, but like all international treatments, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires testing in the U.S. before a treatment can be approved for use here.1
Not just a vaccine, CIMAVax is a treatment. It is an immunotherapy agent, which works by boosting the body’s own immune system to fight cancer cells. CIMAVax blocks a protein, epidermal growth factor (EGF), that cancer cells need in order to survive. Unlike chemotherapy, CIMAVax does not actually kill cancer cells. However, CIMAVax works by blocking EGF from attaching to its receptor (EGFR), which is needed for the cells to grow and spread.2
Next Steps for CIMAVax
The Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, NY has received authorization from the FDA to begin a clinical trial on CIMAVax. Scientists are intrigued by the data seen in previous studies with CIMAVax but note that some of the trials out of Cuba were done on a relatively small number of patients. More definitive studies are needed to evaluate the benefits and ensure the safety of CIMAVax.1
The Roswell Park clinical trial is currently recruiting participants and plans to study CIMAVax in combination with the already approved treatment Opdivo® (nivolumab). Opdivo is also an immunotherapy agent that is a monoclonal antibody. It targets the PD-1 receptor on cancer cells to help the body’s immune system respond to and attack the tumor. The study is enrolling participants with Stage IIIB or Stage IV NSCLC and will evaluate the best dose and side effects of the combination of CIMAVax and Opdivo, as well as studying whether the combination works better in treating patients with NSCLC.3,4
New York Times. Accessed online on 4/14/17 at https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/15/health/cancer-vaccine-cuba-medical-tourism.html?_r=2
CIMAVax Lung Cancer Vaccine. Roswell Park Cancer Institute. Available at: https://www.roswellpark.org/cancer-vaccine
Opdivo product website, Bristol-Myers Squibb Company. Accessed online on 4/14/17 at http://www.opdivo.bmscustomerconnect.com/advanced-nsclc.
ClinicalTrials.gov. Accessed online on 4/14/17 at https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02955290?term=CIMAVax&rank=1.