Roswell Park to partner with Cuba in cancer vaccine clinical trials

Oct 26, 2016

There was plenty of excitement at Roswell Park Cancer Institute Wednesday morning, as President and CEO Candace Johnson made what she called two "historic" announcements that "represent new hope for patients with lung cancer." The Buffalo-based hospital and research center will become the first such institution in the U.S. to test cancer drugs developed in Cuba.

"My God, we did this! We did this! We did this," Johnson announced to loud applause.

With that, Johnson said Roswell has received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to conduct an early clinical trial of CIMAvax, a vaccine for lung cancer developed in Cuba.

"With this landmark clinical trial, Roswell Park - America's first cancer center - becomes the first American institution to give CIMAvax to patients," she said. "We're the first center to get permission to sponsor the U.S. testing of any Cuban medical therapy, to bring Cuban science to the United States."

Clinical trials are expected to begin in Buffalo in about 30 days. Click here to find out if you are eligible to participate.

Dr. Kelvin Lee, Chair of Immunology, and Candace Johnson, President and CEO, explain the 'historic' impact of the new Roswell Park Cancer Institute venture with Cuba.
Credit WBFO's Michael Mroziak

Johnson said Roswell also received authorization from the U.S. Treasury to establish a joint business venture with the Cuban research center that developed CIMAvax, the Center for Molecular Immunology in Havana. Johnson said the venture is another first-of-its-kind in the United States, made possible by the opening up of Cuba for normal diplomatic relations by President Obama and the first Governor-led trade mission to Cuba by Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2015.

Cuomo, who was in Buffalo for the announcement, spoke of New York's role as a leader among states in trying to foster relationships with Cuban interests.

"Cuba could have gone anywhere in the United States," he said. "They could have gone to Johns Hopkins. They could have gone to Memorial Sloan Kettering. They could have gone to Seidman in Cleveland. They could have gone anywhere. Where did they choose? The best place in the United States, Roswell Park."

The FDA gave Roswell Park the go-ahead in late summer to begin trials, with the Treasury approving the business partnership in recent days. Johnson said because this will attract patients from around the world, the partnership will be good not only for the clinic but also for the local economy.

"The potential for this type of approach that Cuba has had with (oncologists), who have spent most of our careers with treating people with advanced disease, the marriage between our two intellectual minds here is just so exciting and the promise is great," Johnson said.