Cuban biotech

Damien R. Sullivan (
Mon, 10 Aug 1998 18:45:04 -0700 (PDT)

The embargoed high biotech island of libertarian SF turns out to be Cuba. I find this quite amusing.

Summary: SmithKline has partnered with Cuba to market their group B meningococcal vaccine, and has applied for an embargo waiver in the US. (The vaccine fights group B meningitis.) One team is in the first phase of human clinical trials of an AIDS vaccine they hope will be ready for commercial use in 2 years. Another group is "perfecting" a cholera vaccine. Biotech is now Cuba's 4th largest export earner. US market analysts confirm Cuba has state-of-the-art research and production capability.


In recent years, the government has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in biotech facilities and research. That has created something of a technology gap here: scientists using advanced genetic techniques to clone fish in a land where the U.S. embargo has made antibiotics scarce on hospital shelves and smoke-belching, '50s-vintage Chevys and Buicks commonplace on the streets.

Dr. Mario Pablo Estrada, who heads the fish-transgenesis project, explains the phenomenon with simple mathematics: "With $7 million, we couldn't even begin to produce our own basic medicines," which he said are far more costly to mass produce than highly specialized "niche" products such as vaccines. "But with a $7-million investment here at the genetic research center, we can make $30 million in sales, and we can use that to buy a lot of basic medicines."

-xx- Damien R. Sullivan X-)