Accessing Cuban Medical Technology

By Tyson Guajardo, Lynx Global Intelligence


It’s no secret that the United States would considerably benefit from open trade with Cuba.  Access to the country’s medical technology could be enormously beneficial to both American businesses and the general population alike.

Although Cuba may be struggling in many measures of development, healthcare is one area where the communist nation vastly excels.  In 2015, there were an estimated 37,000 Cuban nationals working abroad in 77 countries (1).  Remarkably, Cuba boasts more doctors per capita than any other country in the world (Vice News), features a life expectancy almost identical to the United States (2), and has a lower infant mortality rate than its northern neighbor (3).  How is this possible for a nation that has been economically crippled for the past several decades?  The isolation endured by Cuba due to the U.S. trade embargo and the collapse of its largest financial lifeline, the Soviet Union, have led to a necessity to design its own medical innovations.  Furthermore, the Cuban government treats healthcare as a basic human right and invests heavily into the development of new medicines.  In recent years, the country has achieved great success with a few major medical advancements:

  1. A lung cancer vaccine called CimaVax developed by Cuba’s Center of Molecular Immunology is already in the process of approval for use in the United States. In fact, it has already been cleared for testing by the Food & Drug Administration (4).  This vaccine was designed not as a preventative measure, but as a method to freeze growth and reduce the likelihood of recurring non-small cell lung cancer (5).  The treatment has been available in Cuba since 2011 and in its most recent trial on the island, patients who received CimaVax lived between three to five months longer than those who did not.  Moreover, individuals with high concentrations of E.G.F., or Epidermal Growth Factor in their blood survived much longer (5).  Outside of Cuba, the vaccine is also available in Peru, Paraguay, Colombia and Bosnia.
  2. Heberprot-P is a drug used to treat diabetic foot ulcers that was invented by scientists at the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in Havana in 2006. This treatment prevents the need for amputations in individuals with the condition, in turn extending their overall life expectancy.  So far, Heberprot-P has been used to aid over 165,000 patients in 26 different countries worldwide since its launch into the global market (6).  The medication is injected near the affected area to speed up the process of skin restoration and can heal a wound in about three months.    Current treatment options for diabetic foot ulcers remain scarce in the United States where approximately 73,000 American adults with diabetes underwent amputation of their lower limbs in 2010 (7).
  3. The Center of Molecular Immunology in Havana has also developed Nimotuzumab, an anti-cancer drug used against advanced tumors in areas such as the head, neck and brain (8). Monoclonal antibodies in this medicine connect to epidermal growth factor receptors on the surface of the cancer cell and stop it from spreading.  As of 2014, the treatment is recognized under orphan drug status in the United States for the treatment of glioma.

While most Cuban goods are still restricted from importation under the long-standing trade embargo, the US Treasury Department can grant exemptions for certain medicines and healthcare products.  Lynx Global Intelligence is leading a trade delegation to Cuba on July 23-27, presenting a great opportunity for firms in the healthcare industry to learn more about prospective medications and technologies on the island, as well as access to top Cuban business and ministry resources that can facilitate commercial activities with the United States.  Visit us at for more information.