U.S. and Cuba Life Sciences: A Continuing Story


As part of its efforts to normalize relations with Cuba, the U.S. has decided to allow joint medical research projects between the two countries.

Although it was lost in the initial news about the lessening of restrictions on Cuban cigars and rum, the Oct. 14 White House announcement said the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) will permit approval of Cuban-created pharmaceuticals by the Food and Drug Administration and will allow them to be imported for marketing, sale and distribution. OFAC will also allow individuals subject to U.S. jurisdictions to engage in joint medical research projects with Cuban nationals.

In August, I wrote a special report for Bloomberg BNA and blogged about how the U.S. embargo of Cuba remains in place and that that will be the case unless there is congressional action to remove it. Meanwhile, biopharmaceutical advances created in Cuba have been mostly out of the reach of U.S. companies unless the companies have gone through what has been a fairly long process of obtaining an OFAC license.

Some promising collaborations are in the works in the areas of cancer and diabetes treatments. But investors have been hesitant to put money into projects that would be hampered by regulatory delay.

The White House’s action is the necessary next step. My article on this new initiative provides more details about the OFAC changes that were put in place.

It was the next step, but not all that some had hoped for. The nonprofit group MEDICC (Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba) sent me an e-mail noting that the two presidential actions were top priorities in MEDICC’s white paper that was sent to the White House in February.

But others of its recommendations have not yet been adopted, MEDICC stated, “such as allowing U.S. patients to travel to Cuba for medical treatment, providing Americans with more options for care, especially given Cuba’s global recognition for many medical advances not yet available in the United States.”

Not everyone agrees with the thawing of U.S.-Cuba relations. But even the opponents of the changes don’t want those in need to be deprived of lifesaving and life-changing treatments.

The normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations related to medical research is proceeding step by step by step.

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