Cuba to Test New AIDS Vaccine on Humans

Cuba’s leading biotech teams have successfully tested a new AIDS vaccine on mice and are ready to soon begin human testing, a researcher told a biotechnology conference in Havana this week.

“The new AIDS trial vaccine already was tested successfully (on mice) and now we are preparing a very small, tightly controlled phase one clinical trial” with HIV-positive patients who are not in the advanced stages of disease, researcher Enrique Iglesias said.

Iglesias, who leads the vaccine development team at the Biotech and Genetic Engineering Center (CIGB), was speaking at the International Biotech Conference-Havana 2012, which started on Monday in Cuba’s capital.

He told the crowd at the convention centre that the vaccine TERAVAC-HIV-1 was made from recombinant proteins aiming “to cause a cellular response against the (HIV) virus.”

While upbeat, the Cuban expert was quick to downplay high hopes for a long-awaited successful AIDS vaccine.

“So far, there have been more than 100 clinical tests (on humans) with HIV” in Cuba and other countries, “and all of them have failed,” he stressed.

Cuba, the Americas’ only one-party Communist-ruled state, spends more than US$200 million a year on its AIDS prevention and care programmes, including free care with antiretrovirals, some of them Cuban-made.

The CIGB, which groups about 20 research units in Havana’s western end, is the engine behind a major Cuban export: biotech products including vaccines and other drugs.

The Caribbean country exports $400 million a year in these products, making them its official number-two export after nickel.

Around 600 scientists from about 38 countries are taking part in the event, including Nobel-winning US chemist Peter Agre, also a medical doctor and molecular biologist.

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