A diabetes drug developed in Communist Cuba is poised to be marketed in Europe next year, an event that would represent an important milestone in global debates regarding drug development needs and would complicate the United States’ commercial embargo against the Caribbean nation.
According a report by a Havana-based correspondent for London’s Financial Times, Spanish drug company Praxis is seeking European Union approval to finalize testing on and produce the drug, Heberprot-P. The medical compound has already been used by thousands of patients in China, Brazil and Iran to treat foot ulcers in cases where amputation seemed to be the only other alternative.
“Treating foot ulcers is a big need, especially where the alternative is amputation,” Ricardo Silva Rodríguez, an executive with the government-run center that developed the pharmaceutical, told the FT.Among other things, approval of drug sales could bring a tremendous amount of revenue to the cash-strapped Cuban Treasury. In 2011, the government estimates export of pharmaceuticals and medical equipment, none of which is produced on the scale the new diabetes drug would be, exceeded $500 million.It would also open a new front in the battle between poor countries and rich ones as to the necessity of keeping the current global system for development of new pharmaceuticals, which relies on private enterprise and robust patent protection, but commonly fails to develop treatment for diseases whose cures might be unprofitable.Finally, it would put the United States, which has kept a commercial embargo on Cuba for over 40 years in spite of international pressure to lift the boycott in an untenable position: the product would never make it the 90 miles north to American pharmacies and patients in the United States who purchased the drug from third-parties would theoretically be in violation of federal law.State-controlled Cuban media did not report on recent developments with Heberprot-P Wednesday. The closest mention was a nod to the developments of its highly-efficient healthcare system in the official party newspaper, where the government said it was celebrating that fact Cuba has the lowest per capita death rate from diabetes in the Western Hemisphere with a scientific symposium in the town of Cienfuegos. Instead, local media focused on a United Nations vote early in the day that asserted by a 188 to 3 margin that the U.S. embargo against Cuba violates international standards. The embargo is also foremost in the minds of the Cubans looking to market their new pharma products abroad.Asked about the issue by the Financial Times, Silva Rodríguez, the pharmaceutical executive, said that “the US is an interesting market but we have not filed there.”“It’s a complex topic.”