Here's A Serious Alternative To Big Pharma: Cuba

from the doing-more-with-less dept

Techdirt often points out that the current system of funding the creation of life-saving drugs is broken. But the obvious question is: what can you put in its place? The answer includes things like prizes, but also, it seems, Cuba:

Cuba has for several years had a promising therapeutic vaccine against lung cancer. The 55-year trade embargo led by the US made sure that Cuba was mostly where it stayed.

Leaving aside the fact that politics probably got in the way of saving lives (again), the more interesting issue is how Cuba managed to come up with a lung cancer vaccine. Here’s the explanation from the Wired article quoted above:

Though the country is justly famous for cigars, rum, and baseball, it also has some of the best and most inventive biotech and medical research in the world. That’s especially notable for a country where the average worker earns $20 a month. Cuba spends a fraction of the money the US does on healthcare per individual; yet the average Cuban has a life expectancy on par with the average American. “They?ve had to do more with less,” says [Roswell Park Cancer Institute’s CEO] Johnson, “so they?ve had to be even more innovative with how they approach things. For over 40 years, they have had a preeminent immunology community.”

The cancer vaccine is not the only important drug Cuba has managed to develop with its limited resources. According to Wired, Cuban scientists have come up with their own vaccines for meningitis B and hepatitis B, and monoclonal antibodies for kidney transplants. That suggests the success of the “do more with less” approach isn’t just a one-off, but can be applied consistently to deliver results.

That’s important, and not just for people who desperately need new drugs. Big pharma is one of the main industries pushing pseudo-trade agreements like TPP and TTIP. Some of the worst elements in those are driven by that industry’s desire to obtain longer patent protection and delay the entry of generics, with the justification that Big Pharma “needs” these extended monopolies to pay for costly research into novel drugs. Alternative approaches like Cuba’s, which require far lower investments, offer the hope not just of doing “more with less”, but also of calling the pharmaceutical giants’ bluff that only they can come up with life-saving new treatments.

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Comments on “Here's A Serious Alternative To Big Pharma: Cuba”

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36 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Why cuba model cant work in usa

The US suffers from the not invented here syndrome; if someone comes up with a practical idea outside of the nation of USA americans wont use the idea till a US company can plausibly pretend they invented the idea – what happened with medicine in Cuba is not something that fits into the US corporate model, so US companies can’t pretend they invented these solutions

Teamchaos (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Why cuba model cant work in usa

They don’t test their drugs on guinea pigs, they test them on political prisoners (or at least they used to).

I remembered Estebita and Piri dying in blackout cells, the victims of biological experimentation; Diosdado Aquit, Chino Tan, Eddy Molina, and so many others murdered in the forced-labor fields, quarries, and camps. A legion of specters, naked, crippled, hobbling and crawling through my mind, and the hundreds of men wounded and mutilated in the horrifying searches. Source: Armando Valladares‘ “Against All Hope: A Memoir of Life in Castro’s Gulag”

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Why cuba model cant work in usa

Yeah, that’s why I get annoyed when people praise Cuba as an example of an enlightened society. Any philosophical point of view that requires me to suspend my disbelief to take it seriously will be rejected out of hand. No exceptions.

This is why I get regularly bashed by folks on both sides of the aisle; I don’t eat bullshit pie, no matter who bakes it.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Why cuba model cant work in usa

I recently had a discussion that highlighted this incredibly well, although on an individual basis. I was talking about how, while I tend to dislike soda, I do enjoy Coke that is imported from Mexico (probably because it still uses actual sugar). She told me that she won a case of Mexican Coke a year ago, but was so freaked out about food safety (since it was from Mexico, doncha know) that she threw it all away.

trparky (profile) says:

Re: Re: Why cuba model cant work in usa

That that person was a moron. Just because it comes from or approved by the USA doesn’t mean that it’s 100% safe.

Several anti-cholesterol drugs (Crestor, Lipitor, etc.) received FDA approval even though they have been seen to cause irreversible muscle damage and ALS-like symptoms. The same goes for hundreds of other drugs deemed to be safe by the FDA only to get pulled from the market because it was found to be killing people.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Why cuba model cant work in usa

Actually, she’s a very intelligent person. She was just successfully brainwashed by the propaganda that we are sold from the day we’re born: that if it’s from the US, it’s good, if it’s from anywhere else, it’s suspect, and if it’s from certain countries, like Mexico, it’s dangerous.

Mr Big Content says:

Id Rather Die Than Contanimate My Body With Socialist Medicine

That Communist tainted Posion cant POSSIBLY be good for you body. Would your really trust a Govermnent with you health? Give me GOOD OLD CAPITALIST MEDICINE any day! Remember, if its not the output of a competetive Free market, ITS NOT VALID SCEINCE!

Ninja (profile) says:

Cuba has its goods and bads. I’d say their health research and their doctors in general are an awesome part that should be copied. Even the Nazi with all their evil had pretty good animal protection laws. I think the greater question here is: can we swallow our pride and see past our prejudice and accept, adopt the foreign ideas that worked? I’d say quite a few countries aren’t ready.

Teamchaos (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Cost comparison

The lower estimate of 161 million dollars comes from Public Citizen (a group founded by Ralph Nader), so I’m betting his group counted actual costs. Here’s a link to the article in the NYT. Judge for yourself. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/19/upshot/calculating-the-real-costs-of-developing-a-new-drug.html?_r=0&abt=0002&abg=0

Guardian says:

@nazi comment...ends never justifies the means.

sorry there is nothing one can say is good about a regime that murdered 7 million Jews , and started a world war with tens of millions of deaths….the ends does not justify the means BUT AMERICANS THINK IT DOES , that is why operation paperclip took there scientists…..we should have jailed the lot of them all ….yes it would have meant the russians would have got to the moon and been ahead BUT THINK ABOUT THAT….that means not only in health care but rockets communists would have been supreme…only a terrible crazy nut bar regime can out do that at the expense of massive human life
.

this is my opinion.

NOW think canada’s health care system with some of cuba’s and you have the perfect regime for health…

Just Another Anonymous Troll says:

Re: @nazi comment...ends never justifies the means.

Except their animal protection laws. No one is defending the Nazis, we all agree they were evil, but I highly doubt you could look at any evil regime anywhere and not find the tiniest sliver of good in it.
Also, reply to the comment instead of saying @comment subject.

Henry Gomez says:

You're kidding, right?

Cuba is a country that doesn’t have clean drinking water. Cuba is a country that suffers periodic outbreaks of dengue fever. Cuba is a country that despite its much propagandized healthcare system requires patients to bring their own bed linens with them to the hospital. Cuba is a country where citizens routinely have to have medicines shipped to them from relatives abroad. O yea. Cuba is a totalitarian dictatorship know for fabricating entire tales of “socialist accomplishment.” Why isn’t Cuba making millions of Euros marketing their amazing pharmaceutical advancements overseas? Here’s why: they don’t have any. What a joke.

Yes, I know I'm commenting anonymously says:

In short:
US: Government pays for (most) research, big pharma gets the benefits;
Cuba: Government pays for all research, citizens get the benefits.

The big difference is that in Cuba everybody pays a little to help anybody, keeping the cost per person down, while in the US no-one wants to pay for strangers so everyone who needs treatment pays a lot. (That is an unpopular position to hold here, I know).

I suspect that Cuba also has accountability & transparency for the research, leading to the higher efficiency.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The big difference is that in Cuba everybody pays a little to help anybody, keeping the cost per person down, while in the US no-one wants to pay for strangers so everyone who needs treatment pays a lot. (That is an unpopular position to hold here, I know).

Quite a sizeable portion of the US’s population subscribes to the republican train of thought that “there’s no free lunch”.

Unfortunately for them, there’s no virus that only affects poor people, so at the very least vaccination programs must be tax-subsidized to prevent outbreaks of various curable diseases.

Add to this people that refuse vaccines on the basis of religious conviction and you get a recipe for a disaster waiting to happen.

USA really needs some sort of very basic public healthcare service really badly, to prevent curable diseases like measles, smallpox et al. from making a “comeback tour”.
Subsidized influenza vaccines would be good too.

I suspect that Cuba also has accountability & transparency for the research, leading to the higher efficiency.

Bwahaha… now THIS IS A GOOD ONE. No, just… no. Research in former communist countries was never transparent to the public. Ma

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