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HAVANA, Cuba — Researchers from Cuba's Center of Molecular Immunology have developed a vaccine that is capable of reigning in late-stage lung cancer — turning what was almost certain death into a manageable chronic illness.
The new vaccine, CimaVax-EGF, works by getting the body to create antibodies against the epidermal growth factor receptor, a protein related to all cell growth, but which works unchecked in certain types of cancer, including lung cancer.
Once a person can produce antibodies directed against EGFR, their own immune system can work against the disease effectively.
The vaccine is not meant for preventing lung cancer, but rather for keeping it in check over the long term after other treatments have failed.
Gisela Gonzalez, head researcher of the project, told Xinhua that "It is not possible to prevent the disease, but this vaccine improves significantly the status of the critically ill patients."
If more traditional first-line treatments don't work and the cancer progresses, CimaVax-EGF would then be an effective option for controlling the cancer.
There have been several drugs developed which exploit the same protein, like gefitinib and erlotinib, but this is the first vaccine released which targets the EGFR, allowing the body to attack the cancer without constant dosing of drugs, though it can be used in tandem with other treatments.
There are also 14 other vaccines in clinical trials for use against many different kinds of cancer, according to cancer.gov.
Lung cancer kills more people in the U.S. than any other form of the disease — around 158,000 in 2007, according t the CDC. It is also one of the most preventable — about 90 percent of cancers that originate in the lungs are caused by smoking.
The vaccine is especially important for Cubans, where lung cancer is the leading cause of death in most areas of the country. Cuba has spent 25 years researching lung cancer and has so far tested the vaccine on 1,000 patients.
CimaVax-EGF is currently available in all Cuban hospitals, free of charge.