Economic Development, Immuno-oncology, Joint Ventures

New York cancer center launches ‘historic’ JV to bring Cuban-developed cancer drugs to US

Some of the next wave of immunotherapies designed to bolster checkpoint inhibitors will originate from Cuba — if Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center’s latest venture flourishes according to plan.

Candace Johnson

The cancer research and treatment center, located in Buffalo, NY, is launching a joint venture biotech with Havana-based Center for Molecular Immunology (CIM), which developed a cancer vaccine that Roswell Park has been studying. Dubbed Innovative Immunotherapy Alliance, the company will conduct further studies in Cuba on CIMAvax as well as three other experimental cancer drugs from CIM, with the ultimate goal of gaining FDA approval in the US.

In a just-wrapped Phase I trial, Roswell Park investigators concluded CIMAvax plus Opdivo was safe and showed durable responses in lung cancer patients “who would have low probability of therapeutic benefit from immune checkpoint inhibition therapy.” While careful to point out that the data are preliminary, researchers say they believe the therapy — which targets epidermal growth factor — could also treat other cancers including head and neck, colon, breast, prostate and pancreas cancers.

CIMAvax has previously been licensed to YM Biosciences, which ran a Phase II trial in the UK before returning the license to CIM in 2002. YM, now a Gilead subsidiary, also tested another antibody from Cuba with several cancer centers in the US.

The other three immunotherapy assets to be developed by the Innovative Immunotherapy Alliance hit IL-2 mutein, VSSP and tumor-associated gangliosides respectively.

“This is a momentous step forward on one of our most significant undertakings,” Roswell Park president and CEO Candace Johnson said in a statement. “With the establishment of this company, we are entering a critical new phase of Roswell Park’s collaboration with these innovative Cuban scientists. Our goal is to develop these promising cancer therapies as quickly and effectively as possible so that they can benefit the greatest number of US patients.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo heralded the historic venture as an example of the state’s effort to become “a leader in modern medical research and advancement.” Cuomo spearheaded a trade mission to Cuba back in 2015, which paved the way for Roswell Park to test certain Cuban-developed cancer treatments previously unavailable in the US.

CIMavax has now been through late-stage testing in Cuba. Roswell Park expects to initiate a Phase II for the drug soon and enroll more than 100 US patients for its other clinical trials within the next three years.


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