Biotech and pharma ‘underpin’ China-Cuba economic relations

Photo by Maximalfocus

6th December 2021

Cuba and China have confirmed that cooperation in the field of biotechnology and pharmaceuticals now plays a central role in the development of economic relations between the two countries. 

State media reports of the eleventh meeting of the Cuba-China Biotechnology Working Group quoted Cuban Deputy Prime Minister, Jorge Luis Perdomo, as saying that joint programmes form “the fundamental pillar of relations between both countries” and were “of the highest priority”. “The results of the joint ventures in the development and obtaining of novel antibodies, vaccines, and drugs are palpable”, he told the virtual meeting. 

Responding from Beijing, Lin Nian Xiu, Vice President of the National Development and Reform Commission of China (CNDR), noted that, in addition to the four memorandums of understanding on cooperation agreed, and the more than 30 projects undertaken since the programme started in 2004, the pandemic had seen new cooperation that was complementary and mutually beneficial. “We are willing to work with Cuba to take biotechnology cooperation to a higher level”, he was quoted as saying. 

Apart from considering the wide range of joint ventures, production, and research being undertaken in both Cuba and China, the meeting agreed the development of new joint programmes for the period 2022-23.

Speaking at the close of the Working Group, Dr Eduardo Martínez, the President of BioCubaFarma, said that “the Cuba-China alliance in the biopharmaceutical sector is strategic for both countries”. It would, he said, now be necessary to identify and structure the best proposals that contribute to raising the level of the bilateral relationship. 

Among the new projects he identified for bilateral cooperation were: an increase in the sale of Cuban biotech products registered in China (Nimotuzumab, INF-alpha, PPG, and Hebernem); the development of a strategy to establish production facilities in Cuba and in third markets based on technology transfer, by contracting third-party manufacturing arrangements with established Chinese companies; strategic exchanges on regulatory developments between the relevant Chinese and Cuban agencies; a mechanism to monitor cooperation projects between the industries of the two countries; and the speeding up of the evaluation and execution of clinical studies, technology transfers and the registration of products. Martínez also said that Cuba would continue to seek Chinese companies interested in producing Cuban products under licence or through joint ventures in the Chinese market. 

In his remarks, Martínez said that the two countries will continue promoting basic and applied research relating to BioCubaFarma projects. In addition, he noted, they will strengthen research “as a strategic basis” for the development of new Cuban innovative products and technologies for the market. He noted that, in addition, Cuba will continue to encourage Chinese companies to build plants for biopharmaceutical products and the supplies that the island’s biopharmaceutical industry needs. 

Lin Nian Xiu was quoted as saying that the next five years will be key in the development of the bioeconomy. Significant progress had been made in Cuba-China biotechnology cooperation and the two countries “must continue to work together” on investment to drive innovation in biotechnology, he said. This meant, he noted, the strengthening of joint ventures and collaborative work in research centres. 

“We must expand the areas of cooperation. Continue consolidating the traditional and advantageous collaborative projects in biomedicine and disease treatment; accelerate expansion in the application of technological advances; and expand industrial transformation results. At the same time, exploring new opportunities for cooperation in areas, such as cell therapy and brain science “, he said. 

This could involve, he suggested, “the joint construction of laboratories, zones, and industrial development parks, and the joint exploration of third-party markets,” as well as “the promotion of joint research and international information”. 

Among the many projects discussed was work being undertaken at the China-Cuba Centre for Joint Innovation in Biotechnology in the Yongzhou Economic and Technological Development Zone in Hunan. 

As Cuba Briefing has previously reported, the centre is the first of its kind and is involved in joint project incubation and the co-development of drugs, vaccines and innovative therapies for cancer and neurological and infectious diseases. Among the projects underway there is one aimed at developing a joint Pan-Corona vaccine able to protect against the possible emergence of new coronavirus strains. 

The project is based on the technological platform developed by Cuba’s CIGB to enhance immune response by the nasal route using a technological platform similar to that for Cuba’s Mambisa vaccine. The product is currently in clinical studies in Cuba as a booster dose. The joint research is aimed at designing a vaccine that will, according to BioCubaFarma, “cover all antibody-inducing and cellular response regions against the different variants of betacoronavirus strains” and “is already in synthesis”.

As a part of the meeting, several business agreements were signed that guarantee continuity and strengthen bilateral cooperation. The next meeting will be held in Cuba in 2023. 

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