Euro-Cuban Biotech Ahead of US Foreign Policy?
Euro-Cuban Biotech Ahead of US Foreign Policy?
Updated: 02/23/2015 11:59 am EST
Hartmut Ehrlich Chief Executive Officer, ABIVAX
Philippe Pouletty Founder and Chairman, Abivax
Paris, France — Breaking new ground is standard for scientists.
Breaking a five-decade U.S. embargo against Cuba is certainly new ground
for U.S. foreign policy. As the United States begins to look towards
economic developments on this island 90 miles south of Miami, it’s
Europeans like ourselves, who have been at the forefront in one area of
economic development in particular: Science and biotechnology. We have
done so by development of strong human relationships and innovative
therapies, and with the foresight of Fidel Castro’s vision of healthcare
While seeding strong ties between our Paris-based biotechnology company
Abivax and Cuban biotechnology and vaccine institutes four years ago may
now be seen as visionary, to us, it was just good research and
development. A successful biotech company grows on high level science,
breakthrough patent-protected drugs, cash infusions and good people. We
were focused on developing novel therapies for severe viral diseases
such as AIDS and Ebola, and also on therapeutic vaccines, and that focus
led us to find our second home in Havana.
Why Cuba? While it remains largely unknown to the international
biopharmaceutical community – though well-known to WHO and China –
millions of doses of many vaccines that successfully prevent deadly
infectious diseases have been developed and produced in Cuba by
thousands of skilled scientists, engineers and technicians, many of them
trained in Europe, Russia or the US.
Among several questionable decisions Fidel made in the early eighties,
there were a few good ones. They included: educate and train thousands
of physicians, biologists and biochemists; build several integrated
vaccine research, development and production institutes, such as Centro
de Ingenieria Genética y Biotecnologia (CIGB) and Instituto Finlay; and
eradicate hepatitis B, meningitis, typhoid fever and polio(myelitis).
Simply put he developed Cuba’s “Silicuban” Valley – and without any
During our first meetings in 2011 with CIGB management and scientists,
we found a common language when talking science, patents, GMP
manufacturing, clinical trials, and regulatory approvals…and good
wine. In contrast, when we discussed this in June 2011 with Fidel’s
eldest son, Fidel Castro Diaz-Balart, the concept of Cuba becoming a
shareholder of a potentially publicly traded, capitalist, biotechnology
company in Europe, he joked that it sounded appealing to “create value
before a product is on the market.” He added it might take a bit longer
for the Cuban government to take a capitalist route over the negotiation
of product licensing agreements. So we chose the safe route of first
negotiating licensing agreements that took three years to ink.
However, we did not wait for signed documents to get our respective
teams working closely together. Trust and friendship developed quickly.
Non-stop Paris-Havana flights and frequent meetings at CIGB, Finlay or
Abivax established the grounds for a deep, long-lasting collaboration
from which additional products’ license agreements have since been
finalized. The first product from our collaboration, ABX203, is a novel
anti-viral therapeutic vaccine for the treatment of chronic hepatitis B,
a disease affecting 350 million patients that often leads to liver
cirrhosis or cancer. ABX203 has been tested successfully in four CIGB
clinical trials and a pivotal trial in Asia and Australia, run by Abivax
is now ongoing. Phase II studies already demonstrated safety and
efficacy in patients.
Today, Abivax is the first “western” biophar¬maceutical company to have
established a major col¬laboration with Cuban biotech and vaccine
institutes. To Abivax, it means access to excellent vaccine R&D and
large manufacturing capacities and the broadening of its product
portfolio for major unmet medical needs. To Cuba, it offers access to
the West, faster international clinical trials and increasing their
In addition to our scientific and medical ties, we may have gained our
Cuban friends Gerardo’s and Ricardo’s trust at a dinner in Havana in
September 2011. We told them we might call our company EuroCuba if Cuba
became a shareholder. An advisor objected, claiming it would be a strong
negative in the West, especially to banks and potential investors. We
responded that when one wants to marry a girl, telling her she has to
stay indoors and out of sight was not the way to go, and that we were
proud to publicize our relationship. Moreover, our marriage should last
and grow because of the strong foundations we have built together. As
our partners told us, “You were here with us before Obama and Raul ever
Source: Euro-Cuban Biotech Ahead of US Foreign Policy? | Philippe