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Cuba's biotech industry expands globally with diabetes aid

(Xinhua)

09:32, July 11, 2012

HAVANA, July 9 (Xinhua) -- Cuba will have its diabetes drug tested in the European Union (EU) for the first time, signaling the island country's biotech industry is embarking on a global expansion, the official Gramma daily reported Monday.

The Heberprot-P, which was developed to curb diabetes-related amputations, would start advanced clinical trials in 100 hospitals throughout EU in 2013, said Ernesto Lopez Mola, business director of Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CGEB) in Havana.

The drug contains an epidermal growth factor that steps up tissue recovery and is the only drug available today designed to treat diabetic foot ulcers and save the lower limbs, according to Mola.

The upcoming trials marked "the first time (Cuba) undertakes stage 3 research in so-called first world countries," said Mola, adding that it also represented the largest clinical trials to treat diabetic foot ulcers ever done worldwide.

More than 70,000 patients from different nations have been treated so far with Heberprot-P, which is meant to complement, not replace, conventional therapies.

The Heberprot-P has been patented in 40 countries and CGEB officials expect the drug to generate revenues of over 100 million dollars in 2012.

The CGEB's range of biotech drugs contributed to the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of nearly 30 diseases, including chronic hepatitis, respiratory papillomatosis, warts and conjunctivitis, said Dr. Verena Muzio, the center's director of clinical research.

Thanks to the CGEB, founded in 1986 by Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, Cuba has eliminated viral hepatitis type B among Cubans aged under 15, requiring every newborn since 1992 to be immunized with the center's Heberbiovac HB vaccine.

The greatest success of Cuba's biotech industry is widely considered to be the CimaVax-EGF vaccine, the only one of its kind in the world proven effective against advanced lung cancer.

Cuban scientists are also working on a potential new vaccine, called Teravac-HIV-1, to fight AIDS.

The industry generates profits of more than 200 million U.S. dollars per year, and according to the British science journal "Nature," it is the best and most stable biotech industry in the developing world.

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