The Huffington Post | By Erin Schumaker
Original here: Cuba’s Cancer Vaccine
When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) headed to Havana on a historic trade mission in April, he returned with the promise of an important commodity: a Cuban-developed lung cancer vaccine.
The vaccine, called CimaVax, has been researched in Cuba for 25 years and became available for free to the Cuban public in 2011. The country’s Center for Molecular Immunology signed an agreement last month with Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York to import CimaVax and begin clinical trials in the United States.
“We’re still at the very early stages of assessing the promise of this vaccine, but the evidence so far from clinical trials in Cuba and Europe has been striking,” Dr. Kelvin Lee, Jacobs Family Chair in Immunology and co-leader of the Tumor Immunology and Immunotherapy Program at Roswell Park, told The Huffington Post.
When President Obama loosened the United States’ 55-year long trade embargo against the island nation in December, he allowed for such joint research deals to be finalized. Similar programs might have been impossible just a few years ago.
Cuba has long been known for its high-quality cigars, and lung cancer is a major public health problem and the fourth-leading cause of death in the country. A 2007 study of patients with stages IIIB and IV lung cancer, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, confirmed the safety of the CimaVax and showed an increase in tumor-reducing antibody production in more than half of cases. It proved particularly effective for increased survival if the study participant was younger than 60.
So far, 5,000 patients worldwide have been treated with CimaVax, including 1,000 patients in Cuba. Lee said the latest Cuban study of 405 patients, which has not yet been published, confirms earlier findings about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. What’s more, the shot is cheap — it costs the Cuban government just $1, Wired reported. And studies have found there are no significant side effects.
“We think it may be an effective way to prevent cancer from developing or recurring, so that’s where a lot of our team’s excitement comes in,” Lee said. “There’s good reason to believe that this vaccine may be effective in both treating and preventing several types of cancer, including not only lung but breast, colorectal, head-and-neck, prostate and ovarian cancers, so the potential positive impact of this approach could be enormous.”
Preclinical investigations of CimaVax at Roswell Park and the unpublished findings of the 405-patient Cuban study are promising, according to Lee. CimaVax works by blocking a hormone that causes lung cancer tumors to grow, a method which has also been shown to be effective in treating colon cancer. That fuels researchers’ hope that the vaccine will be an effective treatment for other types of cancer as well.
Still, he acknowledged that the vaccine needs rigorous testing in each of these different disease areas to know whether or not the drug will work as well as the scientists at Roswell Park hope. To be clear, the CimaVax doesn’t cure cancer. It’s a therapeutic vaccine that works by targeting the tumor itself, specifically going after the proteins that allow a tumor to keep growing. (And as PBS points out, a person can’t just take a shot of CimaVax and continue to smoke without fear of lung cancer.)
“We hope to determine in the next few years whether giving CimaVax to patients who’ve had a lung cancer removed, or maybe even to people at high risk of developing lung or head-and-neck cancers because of a history of heavy smoking, may be beneficial and may spare those people from having a cancer diagnosis or recurrence,” Lee said.
The United States is currently at work developing two lung cancer vaccines of its own, GVAX and BLP 25, though neither has been studied for as long as CimaVax.
How does a tiny island nation with limited economic resources pioneer a powerhouse cancer vaccine? “They’ve had to do more with less,” Candace Johnson, CEO of Roswell Park, told Wired. “So they’ve had to be even more innovative with how they approach things. For over 40 years, they have had a preeminent immunology community.”
Despite decades of economic problems and the U.S. trade embargo, Cuba has been a model of public health. According the New York Times, life expectancy for Cubans is 79 years, on par with the United States, despite the fact that its economy per person is eight times smaller. While many drugs and even anesthesia have been hard to come by over the years, Cuba has one of the best doctor to patient ratios in the world. Moreover, the Cuban government’s investment in primary care for residents and preventative health measures like public education, housing and nutrition have paid huge dividends in the health of citizens, especially relative to similarly poor countries.
Looking forward, ongoing research collaborations between the two nations are almost certainly on the horizon as relations between Cuba and the U.S. continue to thaw. For now, Lee says the researchers at Roswell Park have their eyes trained on about 20 cancer treatment and prevention technologies in Cuba — including another lung cancer vaccine called racotumomab that the group hopes to study in clinical trials at Roswell. Centro de Inmunología Molecular – Cuba
By: Reem Nasr
CNBC, Tuesday, 5 May 2015
Original article here: Airbnb in Cuba
Tatiana Zuniga started to rent out rooms in her Havana home two weeks into the new year. She had never done it before, but decided, along with her family, that it would be a good way to supplement their income.
Then about three months ago, Zuniga decided to try to attract a new type of visitor—tourists from North America. She connected with Airbnb, the U.S. accommodations broker, and listed her rooms for $33 a night. “They are basically teaching us how to make this a lucrative business,” she told CNBC in a telephone interview. “We are really taught how to reach out to clients and have them come to our home, our neighborhood and our city.”
Zuniga’s rooms are booked through the beginning of June. “It’s very good to get into the North American market, and this is what they seem to be helping us to do,” she said.
“We are an Internet company, and there is a 5 percent Internet penetration in Cuba. We couldn’t expect that hosts would access the site on a daily basis.”-Molly Turner, head of civic partnerships, Airbnb
Zuniga isn’t the only one excited about attracting visitors from the north. Airbnb has taken advantage of an easing of relations between the United States and Cuba since President Barack Obama’s announcement last December that he would seek an opening of links between the countries. Changes to certain trade licenses made it possible for travel services firms, like Airbnb, to finally enter and do business in the long-forbidden Cuban market. It puts the company ahead of most U.S. firms that want to do business there.
“Cuba presented a different case for us because we’ve never launched a market before,” said Molly Turner, global head of civic partnerships at the company. “We had to adapt a lot of our system to the Cuban context.”
The San Francisco-based tech firm launched in late 2008, hoping to link renters and travelers around the world through the Internet. (It is one of Silicon Valley’s many “unicorns,” or start-ups worth more than $1 billion). Travelers can search on the site to rent entire homes or just rooms in 190 countries, most of them at a fraction of the cost of staying in a hotel.
Like many other American companies, Airbnb was banned from doing business in the communist nation until this year. But the company found early success when it launched in Cuba with 1,000 listings on April 2. A month later, it’s consistently adding more listings to the site. It took the company about three months to launch in Cuba because doing business there required a lot of due diligence, Turner said. First, the company had to get in touch with the State Department to make sure it was complying with all U.S. regulations.
“In the beginning, it wasn’t entirely clear to us how the regulations would apply,” Turner said. “We had to work collaboratively with the U.S. government, which meant regular phone calls with them to make sure everything we did was compliant with the law.”
The same applied to figuring out regulations on the Cuba side. That required sending several teams to the island to do research and meet with Cuban officials.
Hagar Chemali, a spokeswoman for the Treasury Department and Office of Foreign Assets Contol , which deals with such trade issues, said that the government is doing a lot of private sector outreach to explain sanctions programs for Cuba and other countries. Interested companies should check the department’s website for more information, she said.
She wouldn’t comment on the specifics of working with Airbnb, but said, “it is very common for companies and individuals to reach out to OFAC to figure out sanctions compliance. In fact, we encourage and welcome that.”
Beyond tricky regulations, the company had to figure out how to do business in a country whose technology use lags much of the globe.
“We are an Internet company, and there is a 5 percent Internet penetration in Cuba,” Turner said. “We couldn’t expect that hosts would access the site on a daily basis.”
Because hosts use their listings on the Airbnb site to manage bookings and payments, the company had to reassess its expectations. Internet cafe culture is not big in Cuba, she explained, so people use the Internet at work to manage listings—providing they even have access on the job.
Zuniga is one of the lucky Cubans who can access the Internet at work, although she said the connection is slow. Like many others, she relies on the help of friends who have better connections at their places of work. “One always finds a way,” she said. “And I can’t miss out on the opportunity, so I try to make it work.”
Turner said that several Cuban hosts get help from friends and family in other countries to manager their online presence.
The company partnered with local payment companies that take payments from travelers made on the site, and put straight into the pockets of the hosts. “To the typical Airbnb customer, the website is no different, but we hacked the back end to make that possible,” Turner said. But Airbnb was lucky, said Turner, because it was able to capitalize on an already existing culture of Cubans who have been renting out their homes for years. The company was able to get into the market first and connect those hosts to the outside world.
“Airbnb was the perfect business at the perfect time,” she said. “If Obama’s talk had been five years ago, it would have been a different story.”
For Zuniga, using the site to list her home has been a start for her as a businesswoman—no small accomplishment for a nation where private property is largely forbidden. The company takes 3 percent of the rental fee she charges.
Paul Webster Hare, Financial Times. May 11, 2015
Original here: Revolutionary in a Business Suit
Both leaders wore business suits at the Panama summit last month. Raúl Castro, the one-time guerrilla from the Sierra Maestra, shook hands with Barack Obama, the former law professor from Chicago. Are Cuba and the US back in business?
In its “normalisation” of relations, the US is finally catching up with more than 100 other countries with embassies in Havana. Americans will now experience the Cuban way of doing business. Existing links can be built on: Cubans want more of the cheap food, such as chicken and rice, that has been sold by US companies in the past decade. They also want fully open US tourism: the prospect of their young people mixing with American peers on their traditional “spring break” is no longer feared by the Castros. Havana wants to maintain billions of dollars in family remittances from the US. But even when the 55-year-old embargo is dismantled, a new business relationship will take time to emerge.
Cuba in 2015 is not a country confidently set in a new direction. Mr Castro can see its past more clearly than its future. He remembers when US companies dominated the economy, and when he and Fidel nationalised them in 1960. Cuba later became dependent on other nations: first the Soviet Union and then Venezuela— which is now looking increasingly wobbly, an important reason to mend relations with America.
So what awaits US companies flying to Cuba? The welcome will be lavish. They will visit revolutionary showpieces such as the Latin American School of Medicine. The mojitos and cigars will taste better. Even the home-run distance at the Havana baseball stadium is marked in feet not metres.
Yet Cuba is still a foreign land for international business. Features of the revolution endure to this day; rudimentary use of the internet is only the most visible. Statistics are produced by the state and there is no independent verification. Foreign exchange reserves are never published. Military-controlled companies retain almost all the hard currency Cuba earns. State employees — estimated at more than 70 per cent of working-age Cubans — receive an average of less than $30 a month in currency worthless anywhere else. “They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work” is a joke almost as old as Havana’s Cadillac Eldorados.
Foreign investors and embassies, forbidden by law to select their own employees, pay well above state rates, producing absurd results: at the British embassy, I had a PhD in microbiology working as a nightwatchman. Education matters little when you cannot pay your bills. Apathy is prevalent: I remember the Havana fun fair manager who closed for lunch with a queue of 50 customers; and the biotech marketing managers who visited the UK but returned with no leads.
US companies bidding for foreign investment projects will face competitors from countries including China, Brazil, Venezuela and the EU. Political considerations will weigh heavily; and if things go wrong the business climate is unfamiliar. The courts have never ruled for a foreign business against the government. And, though Havana badly wants to buy US imports on credit, its record on payment is poor.
Mr Castro will want to put in place a framework for new relations with the US before he steps down in 2018. But he has not yet signalled he wants Cubans to grow rich in private business. Few countries can match the investment potential of his nation. Cuba currently has only two golf courses; the Dominican Republic has more than 30. Some projects will succeed; yet the recent jailing of British investors in Havana’s luxury Saratoga Hotel — after a trial that took place behind closed doors, of which few details have been released — serves as a warning.
The Castro brothers in the Sierra Maestra proceeded cautiously, building their campaign of revolution. American businesses should recognise that they are dealing with the same strategists.
The writer was British ambassador to Cuba from 2001 to 2004, and is now a lecturer at Boston University