Cuba has developed its own candidate vaccines against Covid-19 and one of them has entered phase III. The candidate named Soberana 02 has been in phase III since March. The other indigenous vaccine candidate developed by the South American country is Abdala.
Notably, Cuba was one of the least affected countries in 2020 amid the pandemic. It opened its borders last November, after which infections accelerated and peaked would have April 24.
The candidate vaccines were developed at the Finlay Vaccine Institute, located in the capital of Havana. The Finlay Institute is a national institute of Cuba.
Soberana 02 is being tested on 44,000 people in the phase 3 trial and this includes a placebo group. On top of that, the country is running another efficacy trial involving 75,000 people and in this case, there is no placebo group. According to Vicente Vérez Bencomo, Director General of the Finlay Institute, it is too late for a placebo study because cases are on the rise in the country. He also voiced the opinion in the same interview that the people waiting for their jab slot would serve as a control group in the lawsuit.
Soberana 02 has a different manufacturing approach. This is a conjugate vaccine, in which a weaker antigen is linked to a stronger antigen, which can create a vigorous immune response. Scientists at the Finlay Institute took fragments of the spike protein from the novel coronavirus and coupled with a deactivated form of tetanus toxin, which is a strong antigen (anything can cause the immune system to generate a response against it). The powerful antigen can stimulate the production of antibodies and immune cells.
Previously testing, the Soberana 02 vaccine candidate generated an antibody response in approximately 80% of people vaccinated with two doses. Notably, applying a third booster dose increased the percentage to 100%, meaning that all of the people vaccinated developed neutralizing antibodies that prevent the virus from entering the cell.
Again, Vicente Vérez Bencomo believes that the jab will protect people against the development of serious Covid-19 infection. However, he mentions that this won’t be clear until after the Phase III trial is over, where efficacy is tested. He also has said that the final results should be ready for release by June.
Cuba began vaccine development in May 2020 after the country’s president, Miguel Diaz-Canel, called it out. However, the development of the Covid-19 vaccine in Cuba has had other costs. The country should to abandon other vaccine projects. The pneumococcal vaccine and the pertussis vaccine projects in Cuba have been blocked because of this.
Cuba steps up production and Vicente Vérez Bencomo believe that this year the country would be able to produce around ten million doses per month.
When asked why Cuba decided to go it alone and was not part of the COVAX program, Vicente Vérez Bencomo in a declaration at Nature said the country wanted to rely only on its own abilities, not the decisions of others. He also said the decision was justified. “What we are seeing around the world is that vaccine stocks are being stored by rich countries,” he said in the same statement.
The US embargo against Cuba has also affected vaccine production. “The companies that have been selling us materials for 60 years under the administration of former US President Donald Trump got scared and told us – Sorry, we cannot continue to cooperate with you because we are afraid of losing our trade with North America, ”said Vicente Vérez Bencomo.
Nevertheless, Cuban scientists are doing everything and creatively mobilizing resources to get the vaccine as soon as possible.