Cuba Announces Release of the World's First Lung Cancer Vaccine

Cohibas

Cuba is known for exporting cigars, but it might soon be known for exporting a lung cancer vaccine researchers say can turn advanced lung cancer into a manageable chronic illness.M Turner via Wikimedia

From the island nation known for the quality of its cigars comes some pretty big news today: Xinhua reports that Cuban medical authorities have released the first therapeutic vaccine for lung cancer. CimaVax-EGF is the result of a 25-year research project at Havana's Center for Molecular Immunology, and it could make a life or death difference for those facing late-stage lung cancers, researchers there say.

CimaVax-EGF isn't a vaccine in the preventative sense--that is, it doesn't prevent lung cancer from taking hold in new patients. It's based on a protein related to uncontrolled cell proliferation--that is, it doesn't prevent cancer from existing in the first place but attacks the mechanism by which it does harm.

As such it can turn aggressive later-stage lung cancer into a manageable chronic disease by creating antibodies that do battle with the proteins that cause uncontrolled cell proliferation, researchers say. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are still recommended as a primary means of destroying cancerous tissue, but for those showing no improvement the new vaccine could be a literal lifesaver.

The vaccine has already been tested in 1,000 patients in Cuba and is being distributed at hospitals there free of charge. That's a big deal for a country where smoking is part of the national culture and a leading cause of death. If it proves as successful as researchers say it is, it should give those suffering from lung cancer reason to celebrate--just not with a Cohiba.