Cuba has five COVID-19 vaccines in clinical trials and is on track to receive emergency use authorization from the country’s regulatory agency to begin mass vaccination with two of those candidates: Abdala and SOBERANA 02. Results from phase 1 and 2 trials of these vaccines, the first developed and produced in Latin America, have been encouraging, both in terms of safety and immunogenicity. The ongoing phase 3 trials will continue to look at safety, together with efficacy; parallel intervention studies involving over a million people in Havana will begin generating data on effectiveness. Coordination between Cuba’s biotechnology sector and its public health system-particularly throughout the different levels of primary care-to control and treat COVID-19 is a cornerstone of the Cuban strategy and one that could serve as a blueprint for future pandemics. Another Cuban product, itolizumab, is showing positive results mitigating cytokine release syndrome (CRS) in COVID-19 patients with moderate-to-severe acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Developed in collaboration with Biocon (India), itolizumab is administered under an expanded access program to treat vulnerable populations in Cuba. Marshaling complementary capacities of dozens of institutions belonging to BioCubaFarma-the country’s biotech conglomerate-and developing therapies, vaccines and medical technologies together, is another cornerstone of Cuba’s strategy to combat COVID-19 and improve population health. The Molecular Immunology Center (CIM) is a key player in this strategy. Founded in 1992, CIM is a powerhouse in monoclonal antibody research and production, with 6 registered products and 22 in the pipeline. Known for several novel therapeutic cancer treatments, CIM has over two decades’ experience producing complex recombinant proteins in mammalian cells on an industrial scale. Once Cuba’s Innovation Committee (convened in January 2020 as part of the National COVID-19 Prevention & Control Plan) determined Cuban researchers would pursue protein subunit vaccine candidates, they turned to CIM to produce the required receptor-binding domain (RBD) of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, among other responsibilities. CIM’s General Director, Dr Eduardo Ojito-Magaz, is a chemical engineer and holds a master’s degree in biotechnology. He spoke with MEDICC Review just days before 1.7 million Havana residents began participating in the country’s largest intervention study with the COVID-19 vaccines his center helped make possible.
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