Industry experts say the Obama administration's decision to lift a ban on importing Cuban pharmaceuticals and collaborating with the nation's researchers could bring the nation's cheaper, reputable medicines to the U.S. if they're approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
The policy change announced on Friday has the potential to bring Cuba's cheaper, reputable medicines to the U.S. if they're approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The opportunity to conduct joint research could also give American researchers the chance to better study Cuba's care-delivery models, which are known around the world for their focus on primary care and delivering strong outcomes despite being poor in resources.
The administration's changes, which also legalized importing Cuban merchandise such as cigars and alcohol, open up a world of business and research opportunities for both American manufacturers and academic institutions. Cuban vaccines are known for being high quality, including vaccines for hepatitis B and meningitis, according to Dr. Pedro Greer, a Cuban-American who is associate dean for community engagement at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine at Florida International University.
A number of Cuban drugs have been approved or trialed in Europe, Asia and Canada, according to a post by Cuba Business Report.
Greer is hopeful that a multinational firm won't take advantage of the policy change and hike the prices of Cuba's medicines, which are known for being affordable. A spokesman for trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America said the drug industry welcomes the opportunity for Cuban innovation to be shared with the U.S. through the FDA approval process.
The state-owned Cuban biotech industry is ripe for a joint venture with a U.S. company or academic institution, Greer said.
As a medical school administrator, Greer is eager to learn how Cuba trains its doctors, who are known for being strong despite using outdated equipment and lacking financial support.
“It opens the door to collaboratively work to better and see what we can learn from their education system,” Greer said.
It's an opportunity to learn from one of the most sophisticated healthcare delivery and training programs in Latin America, said Dr. Ross McKinney, chief scientific officer at the Association of American Medical Colleges. And Cuban physicians, who have less specialty training, could learn about specialty care from the U.S.
In terms of research, Cuban academics have a lot of knowledge to offer their American counterparts, especially in dealing with vector-borne illnesses such as Zika, McKinney said. Medical researchers in the U.S. already conduct joint clinical trials in other Caribbean islands such as Puerto Rico and the Bahamas, so he expects that they'll want to engage the Cubans as well.
“I think the major lesson we'll learn will be cultural,” McKinney said. “People from different cultures understand and manage diseases in different ways.”