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  • Photograph: Drs. Luis Javier Gonzalez and Manuel Raices present to UCLA faculty and students on Cuba’s pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry.

    Monday, June 5, 2017

    Despite the economic consequences of a decades-long U.S. embargo, Cuba has developed a robust pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry. Because the embargo limited Cuba’s ability to import pharmaceuticals and health technology, the country invested heavily in medical research as a necessity to address the health needs of their population. Today, Cuba boasts a sophisticated pharmaceutical sector that presents a largely untapped market for both commercial prospects and non-commercial medical research. Regulatory changes made under the Obama administration have relaxed economic sanctions against Cuba, creating the opportunity for increased collaboration between the U.S. and Cuba in the medical sphere.

    In May 2017, the UCLA Center for World Health hosted Drs. Luis Javier Gonzalez and Manuel Raices from the Cuban Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) to discuss Cuba’s increasing prevalence in the international biotechnology and pharmaceutical market.

    CIGB is a part of the larger group BioCubaFarma, a biotechnological and pharmaceutical group comprised of over 30 enterprises, 64 manufacturing facilities, and over 20,000 employees. BioCubaFarma was established in 2012 and integrates Cuban companies dedicated to scientific development, research, production and marketing of biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and medical equipment to supply to domestic and international markets. BioCubaFarma’s products are marketed in 49 countries and are in clinical trials in 18 countries.

    Today, BioCubaFarma hopes to break into U.S. markets with a variety of medicines, including Heberprot-P, a promising treatment for foot ulcers in diabetic patients. The medicine, created by a team of researchers from CIGB (including Dr. Raices), has proven very effective, reducing the relative risk of diabetic foot ulcer (DFU) amputation in more than 71% of cases in pilot studies. So far, more than 250,000 DFU patients from 26 countries have been treated with Heberprot-P in Cuba.

    While at UCLA, Drs. Gonzalez and Raices hosted a roundtable discussion highlighting Cuba’s contributions to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors. Attended by faculty and students from the David Geffen School of Medicine, Fielding School of Public Health, and School of Nursing, Drs. Gonzalez and Raices stressed the importance of continuing the normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations. The doctors argued that because the U.S. and Cuba face similar disease burdens, such as the high prevalence of diabetes and lung cancer, a collaborative approach would be beneficial for both countries. For example, in the U.S., where 9.3% of the population has diabetes, Cuban-developed Heberprot-P could have a tremendous impact.

    More information on BioCubaFarma
    More information on the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology
    For 25 years, the UCLA/Fogarty AIDS International Training and Research Program (UCLA/Fogarty AITRP) has provided education and training that enables international healthcare professionals to complete M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in the epidemiology of HIV/AIDS. Through partnerships with leading universities and HIV/AIDS control programs in partner countries, UCLA/Fogarty AITRP aims to provide training for local healthcare professionals and technical staff to assist with the prevention and control of HIV/AIDS. The program has collaborated with institutions and professionals in Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.

    Trainees in the M.S. program typically spend between fifteen and twenty-one months in formal course work at UCLA and three to six months completing their fieldwork and thesis. Ph.D. trainees usually spend three years in academic studies at UCLA and twelve to eighteen months completing their dissertation. The UCLA/Fogarty AITRP also offers in-country courses, as well as a three-month postdoctoral training course at UCLA. To be considered for participation, health professionals must guarantee that they will return to their home country after completion of the program.

    In 2014, the Fogarty International Center, a division of the National Institutes of Health, announced plans to award five-year grants to three HIV/AIDS prevention projects headed by UCLA faculty. Dr. Roger Detels and Dr. Sung-Jae Lee, faculty in the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health Department of Epidemiology, received two awards of $1.4 million and $1.5 million for their ongoing efforts to provide effective HIV/AIDS education and training in Myanmar and Thailand. Additionally, Dr. Pamina Gorbach, also a professor in the Department of Epidemiology, received $1.4 million for her work training Cambodian public health professionals in the analysis and use of HIV/AIDS data collected by the Cambodian government.

    Through partnerships with the Myanmar University of Public Health (UPH), the Thai Ministry of Public Health, and the Cambodian University of Health Sciences (UHS), the three programs are giving M.S. and Ph.D. candidates, as well as postdoctoral scholars, the chance to train in advanced research methodologies both at UCLA and in their home countries. These training opportunities will enable professionals to better identify critical health trends, epidemiologic shifts, and use their knowledge to inform HIV/AIDS policies and program improvements.

    The UCLA/Fogarty AITRP also operates in Vietnam, in partnership with Hanoi Medical University (HMU). Led by Dr. Li Li, Professor in the Department of Epidemiology, the program provides training in advanced research methodology and HIV/AIDS to trainees from Vietnam. In addition to holding courses at UCLA for M.S. and Ph.D. degrees, the program also provides in-country summer workshops on community-based interventions, program monitoring and evaluation, research ethics, advanced study design and evaluation, and grant writing and management. The training strategy builds curriculum development capacities for HMU, strengthening the institution’s research capabilities.

    Read more about Dr. Detel’s work
    Read more about Dr. Lee’s work
    Read more about Dr. Gorbach’s work
    Read more about Dr. Li’s work

    UCLA’s Integrated Substance Abuse Programs (ISAP) is a division within the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences that focuses on addiction-related research and training. ISAP’s research efforts range from epidemiological and policy studies, to clinical trials of innovative behavioral and pharmacotherapy interventions. In addition to implementation of research initiatives, a significant part of their work focuses on moving empirically-supported substance abuse interventions from research settings into mainstream application. Since its founding in 1999, ISAP has steadily established its presence as a major entity in the drug abuse research community, both domestically and internationally.

    ISAP has a number of international projects that are shaping the way addiction science is approached worldwide. In 2011, ISAP received funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to establish an HIV-Addiction Technology Transfer Center (H-ATTC) at Hanoi Medical University in Vietnam. The center concentrates education efforts on addiction, mental health, and HIV in two areas: pre-service education for medical, public health, and nursing students, and in-service education for the healthcare and social service workforce. Given the success of the H-ATTC in Hanoi, ISAP received additional SAMHSA funding in 2014 to add a second center in Ho Chi Minh City and again in 2016 to develop a third center in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

    Each year more than 2,000 students and healthcare providers receive specialized training through ISAP’s H-ATTCs in Vietnam and Thailand on a range of HIV, addiction, and mental health topics. Through effective training, mentoring, and technical assistance, these Centers are broadening the skillsets of both students and healthcare workers in Vietnam and Thailand, enhancing their competence in addiction science. ISAP’s extensive network of international partners, including universities, civil society organizations, and both governmental and non-governmental entities is helping to create a more skilled workforce that is capable of treating individuals with HIV and substance use/mental health issues.

    ISAP’s international projects have been so successful that SAMHSA, in collaboration with the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), has chosen to expand the H-ATTC model in 2017 by establishing similar collaborative training centers in Ukraine and South Africa.

    For more information on the UCLA Integrated Substance Abuse Programs, please visit