Cuba reports success in coronavirus treatment. The drug interferon is said to be effective


Cuba says it is successful in treating the new coronavirus at home and in China, and that 80 countries have already expressed interest in purchasing its interferon alfa-2b. The government hopes that its interferon and other products it develops will provide support for the ailing Cuban economy. “We have good products, such as interferon alfa 2b, that we export and that open up opportunities for us,” Trade Minister Rodrigo Malmierca said recently on television.

Interferons have long been used worldwide to treat denque fever, cancer, and hepatitis B and C. Studies during the 2003 SARS epidemic suggested that interferons could also be useful against coronaviruses.

Havana reports that China, where the pandemic occurred last year, has included interferon in its guidelines for the treatment of covid-19, a disease caused by the new coronavirus. One of the interferons she used was the one made by the Cuban-Chinese joint venture Changheber.

Serious side effects

However, interferons can have serious side effects when administered in the usual forms, which are injections or infusions. Some of these may be the same as the symptoms of covid-19, such as fever and difficulty breathing.

Cuba says it has treated almost all of its patients with interferon injections and believes the drug has helped it achieve a lower mortality rate of 4.1 percent in 1,804 cases in the country, while the average for the rest of America is 5.9 percent. Also, a test conducted at Taipei Hospital in the Chinese province of Hubei at the height of the epidemic in the region suggested that newer routes of interferon administration could help control the spread of the virus and even prevent infection with fewer side effects.

None of the nearly 3,000 healthcare professionals who used interferon in the form of nasal drops became infected with the new coronavirus, according to an informal report of a study that Reuters had access to. According to Chinese researchers, the study included more than 50 people with high exposure to infected patients. However, no special Cuban version of interferon alfa was used in the test and was not published in a credible medical journal.

Another study at Wu-Chan Hospital showed that patients with covid-19 who inhaled interferon had better respiratory problems and their blood cleared of the virus faster than patients who did not receive interferon. However, control studies are needed to confirm the effects, and dozens of interferon studies are now being conducted around the world.

Nasal drops as prevention

But Cuba is not waiting for the results of the studies. She has already started using interferon nasal drops to prevent infection in healthcare professionals.

Interferon was considered a potentially miraculous drug in the 1970s and 1980s and has a special place in Cuba. After the 1959 revolution, Castro gave priority to health care and education and was often interested in scientific development. He therefore sent Cuban scientists abroad to study local production. Researchers have so quickly figured out how to make the drug at home. The product was successfully used after the outbreak of denque in 1981. At that time, the Cuban biopharmaceutical sector really began to grow, despite the obstacles posed to it by the US trade embargo.

Cuba now makes most of the drugs used there. It also exports more than 300 products to more than 50 countries, including a therapeutic lung cancer vaccine called CIMAvax. It currently has 21 research centers and 32 companies employing 20,000 people. They are covered by the state enterprise BioCubaFarma. According to the latest available official data from 2016, the country received USD 442 million (CZK 11.2 billion) from drug exports, which was more than from sugar, rum or tobacco exports.

Proponents of the Cuban success claim that Cuba is thus refuting the claim that innovation in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors requires competition in the free market. Skeptics, on the other hand, ask whether a state-funded sector is really profitable and whether it can thrive due to Cuba’s financial problems. In recent years, Cuba has not been able to produce enough drugs to fully meet domestic demand.

But a pandemic could be a unique opportunity for the industry to improve its reputation and gain a hard currency. Last week, BioCubaFarma President Eduardo Martínez introduced a series of drugs that Cuba is testing and developing to boost the immune system against covid-19 to prevent symptoms from worsening and help heal. He is also developing his own version of the drug Kaletra for HIV from the American company AbbVie, which is being tested for covid-19 in combination with other drugs, including interferon.


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