A joint venture between the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York, and the Center for Molecular Immunology in Havana could open its doors to new U.S. investors as early as April.
“We hope that by the first of April this will be incorporated in Cuba … and at that point we would be looking for investors,” Thomas Schwaab, an oncology professor and the institute’s director of strategy and business development, told a gathering Tuesday.
The joint venture — the first in the field of biotechnology — would be based in the Mariel Special Development Zone west of Havana and would produce vaccines to fight cancer developed with Cuban technology. U.S. clinical trials of the Cuba-produced CIMAvax vaccine against lung cancer began in January, under an authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.
“This joint venture will not only be a basic research and R&D facility but also will allow our scientists to collaborate,” Schwaab said. “It will allow us to buy Cuba biotech and bring it into the U.S., apply for FDA approval, have outside investors investing in this joint venture corporation and then take a drug like CIMAvax, that has been given to thousands of patients globally, and bring it to the U.S. market. I don’t have to tell you the opportunity it is, in terms of returns of investments.”
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This joint venture will not only be a basic research and R&D facility but also will allow our scientists to collaborate.
Thomas Schwaab, Roswell Park Cancer Institute
The conference in New York City was organized by the Americas Society/Council of the Americas and Corporación Andina de Fomento CAF-Banco de Desarrollo de América Latina, known by the Spanish acronym CAF, a lending institution owned by 18 countries and 14 private banks in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as Spain and Portugal.
Germán Ríos, CAF director of strategic issues, underlined the importance of Cuba in the region and the desire to support Cuba’s efforts at reforms.
“Our goal is for Cuba to become a CAF member, and we are working on that,” Ríos said. CAF Executive President Enrique García visited Cuba last week and met with several cabinet ministers as well as the president of the Central Bank. He also signed a cooperation agreement with the University of Havana to establish a training center for managers in different sectors.
Ríos told the conference that the project would receive $300,000 in financing over three years. Overall, CAF will disburse $1 million for technical aid to Cuba.
Several people who participated in the event called on both the U.S. and Cuban governments to eliminate obstacles to commercial relations. Minnesota Republican Rep. Tom Emmer said there’s support in the U.S. House and Senate “if not to eliminate the embargo, at least to eliminate some parts of it in the short run.”
Emmer, an early supporter of President Donald Trump, also mentioned the uncertainties surrounding the new administration’s approach to Cuba.
“The administration obviously is a wild card. We’ll see; so far I know everybody is nervous,” he said. “But keep in mind the president himself has said we are going to negotiate a better deal. Good. That doesn’t tell me we are done talking. That tells me we’re going to be talking.”
Emmer, who said he would be traveling to Cuba in coming weeks with other newly elected Republican members of Congress, added that the Cuban government has a long way to go to attract U.S. investments.
A portfolio of investment opportunities prepared by the Cuban government each year is a “beautiful book with 300 some pages with colored pictures and descriptions,” he said. “They pushed it across the table and they said ‘We have all these projects ready to go, we just need your money.’ It doesn’t work that way. And having two forms of currency, it was stunning to me.”
Investors, Emmer added, have two questions: “Can I expect a reasonable return to my investment? And will my investment be safe? Unless you can answer those questions, you know what? Build Mariel, put out beautiful glassy pictures, etc.,” but there will be no substantial investments in Cuba.
Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres