CUBA is experiencing an “explosion” in the biotechnology field, affirmed Dr. Carlos Borroto, deputy director of the Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Center (CIGB), during a recent scientific conference in Havana, to which dozens of U.S. experts were denied travel authorization and were therefore unable to attend.
Borroto recalled that during the 1980’s Cuba only boasted three products derived form this science and now, at the end of 2005, that number has risen to 38.
Cuban biotechnology is among the most advanced in areas such as the production of monoclonal antibodies, therapeutic vaccines, and other molecules of pharmaceutical interest, he emphasized.
He explained that this science continues to become more important to the economy, given that “our work doesn’t end with the publication (of results) but we are looking for ways to impact on society.”
Borroto, president of the 2005 Havana Biotechnology Congress, revealed that a candidate vaccine against hemorrhagic fever in rabbits as well as a possible vaccine to combat classic cholera in hogs could be ready by 2007, according to a PL report.
The CIGB has already marketed the Cuban GAVAC vaccine that reduces bovine cattle mortality from infections caused by ticks, while at the same time reducing the number of baths in parasite-killing chemical agents the animals must be subjected to that could pass into their milk.
Likewise he announced that Cuba is about to introduce a new technology in the production of its Hepatitis B vaccine that will make the product more biologically safe, according to experts.
Speaking to AIN, Borroto recalled that since the 1990’s, Cuba has manufactured a recombinant vaccine against Hepatitis B by genetic engineering methods, but with a purification system based on antibodies produced in animals.
Now -he explained-, the country intends for the first time to produce antibodies industrially with a purification system based on genetically modified plants.
If achieved, it would be an important Cuban contribution to the battle against Hepatitis B: a disease that kills nearly a million people every year worldwide.
Cuba has also discovered that the expression and characterization in transgenic plants of the monoclonal antibody HR3, used in the treatment of cancer, showed the same effect in preclinical trials as the anti-tumor product obtained from mammal cells.
Cuba is very active in the investigation of transgenic plants although nothing has reached a commercial level. He pointed out that the three most advanced projects are insect-resistant rice, sweet potatoes and corn. In addition Cuba is searching for varieties that can survive conditions of drought and high soil salinity.
There is also research underway on transgenic tilapia as well as studies on all the genes involved in immune response.
Borroto emphasized that the risks of these genetically modified organisms to human health, the environment and the economy is being evaluated.
The growth of aquatic organisms is another objective of the center, which registered one outstanding product this year: Acuario 1. This product stimulates the development of fish and crustaceans.
Biotechnology Havana 2005 was attended by some 550 delegates from 32 countries. Among them were Professor John R. Benemann, the only U.S. expert authorized to travel, and Chris Lamb, director of the John Inns Centre in Britain, who was declared Congress president of honor.