Extraordinary results have been seen during the 20 years of work at the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB), both in research, development and production, and the marketing of products that today are internationally recognized for their exclusivity and proven quality.
The Center’s origins are linked to the production of leukocyte interferon, five years ago, as expressed by Dr. Francisco Machado Ramírez, Deputy Director General of CIGB, in statements to Excelencias Especial Cuba, who referred to details that support the important work of scientists at this pioneering Cuban biotechnology facility, one of the more than fifty scientific institutions making up Western Havana's Scientific Complex.
Numerous investigations and world-class results have been obtained in Cuba in the manufacture of human and veterinary vaccines, diagnostics, monoclonal antibodies, bioproducts and drugs. Since the creation of interferon, the first product produced by CIGB, which has also seen major development in new treatments – Dr. Machado noted – other products stand out such as recombinant epidermal growth factor, or the vaccine against hepatitis B (Heberbiovac-HB), with which the entire Cuban population under 25 years is immunized, is registered in about 35 countries in Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa.
The recombinant vaccine against cattle ticks (Gavac) is another CIGB product, which has significantly reduced the incidence and mortality rates caused by mite-borne diseases in cattle and has now gone beyond CIGB to additionally be manufactured at its counterpart located in the eastern province of Camagüey. Also among the newer drugs is Citoprot-P, for the treatment of advanced diabetic foot, unique in the world, as it is able to heal ulcers and in many cases prevent amputation, which affects a considerable percentage of the population living with diabetes worldwide.
This drug, which is already registered for use in Cuba under the prescription of angiology specialists, is given to any person facing possible amputation in about 30 hospitals across the country. Another recent success is the first recombinant monoclonal antibody obtained from genetically engineered plants (plantibodies), to be used in the production of the vaccine against hepatitis B.
Referring to an area of utmost importance, Machado mentioned the integration achieved among all scientific institutions, which has enabled the consolidation and success demonstrated today in Cuban biotechnology.
In this regard, Dr. Machado Ramirez referred to the vaccine against Haemophilus influenzae type B, made from a synthetic antigen, which immunizes against the bacteria that causes meningitis and pneumonia in infants under one year, as well as the pentavalent vaccine, which is already registered and will be applied in the country, providing immunization against these diseases, diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus with a single injection.
CIGB is the island's largest research center, which also boats a production plant and marketing entity, Herber Biotec S.A., exclusive representative of its drugs and of other institutions of the Scientific Complex.
A symbol of the achievements of Cuban biotechnology over the past two decades, the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology is today one of the pillars of the Cuban biotechnology industry, whose high quality products are marketed in several countries.
WHAT IS BIOTECHNOLOGY? The roots of biotechnology as a science can be found in the nineteenth century, when in 1869 the Swiss biochemist, Johann Friedrich Miescher, discovered deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), as well as experiments in the 1940s which provided a major boost thanks to the work of Canadian microbiologist, Oswald Avery, and his colleagues, Colin MacLeod and Maclyn McCarty.
By the 1950s, James Watson and Francis Crick, from the U.S. had discovered the structure of DNA, which allowed scientists from the universities of Stanford and California to launch the world's first examples genetic engineering in 1973.
Biotechnology can be defined as the modification of living cells, the culture of tissues or molecules derived from an organism to obtain or modify a product, improve a plant or animal, or develop a microorganism, whose use in the industrial sector allows for the production of new goods and services.
The spectrum of biotechnology application is broad and its development prospects incalculable. The achievements are present in multiple areas today, such as medicine production, the creation of new therapies for the treatment of various diseases such as cancer, hepatitis B, meningoencephalitis and HIV, as well as the food, agricultural, energy, chemical and even information technology industries, where more powerful chips have been manufactured through the use of DNA. SOME ACHIEVEMENTS OF CUBAN BIOTECHNOLOGY -Vaccine against meningitis type B and C. -Polyvalent vaccine against Haemophilus influenzae type B. -Recombinant vaccine against hepatitis B. -Interferons such as alpha-interferon. -Over 100 monoclonal antibodies. -Recombinant streptokinase to treat acute myocardial infarction (AMI). -Enzymes for industrial use. -Policosanol (PPG) to treat atherogenic lipid disorders. -Diagnostics for diseases such as HIV/AIDS and lipoprotein (A). -Epidermal growth factor. -Medical equipment and software. -The Ultra Micro Analytical System (SUMA). -Recombinant human erythropoietin for patients with chronic renal failure.
CUBA, AN EMERGING POWER Although biotechnology was virtually unknown in the country before the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, advanced scientific thinking has existed on the island since the nineteenth century with figures of global importance such as Carlos J. Finlay, Tomás Romay and Alvaro Reynoso.
Thanks to multiple educational programs that helped develop the necessary professional base, since the 1980s Cuba has followed a strategy of development of biotechnology, and in 1981 the Biological Front was created, of which various scientific institutions formed a part. In the same decade, several scientific centers were created, such as the Center for Biological Research; the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB); the Center for the Production of Laboratory Animals (CENPALAB); the National Center for Biopreparations (BIOCEN); and the Immunoassay Research Center and the Center of Molecular Immunology (CIM). In addition, other institutions were remodeled and expanded for insertion into the biotechnology industry, such as the Pedro Kourí Institute of Tropical Medicine (IPK) and the Finlay Institute.
Since the mid-1980s to the present, biotechnology has spread to several provinces across Cuba, with the opening of the Camagüey Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology and the Institute for Plant Biotechnology at the Central University of Las Villas in Villa Clara, as well as similar institutions in Ciego de Ávila, Sancti Spiritus, Holguín and Santiago de Cuba.
The country also has an extensive network of bio-factories for the production of in vitro plantlets in order to improve the agricultural sector, with new varieties created which are more resistant to diseases and pests in crops such as sugarcane, potatoes, tobacco, bananas, vegetables and citruses.
Equally there have been advances in animal biotechnology, with the latest generation veterinary vaccines and the production of transgenic animals. Unlike other similar industries, Cuban biotechnology is not only aimed at improving the quality of life of its people, but it also assists in the production and export of products to other countries with limited financial resources, who can not afford the monopoly prices charged by large multinationals.