U.S.-Cuba Relationship May Be Thawing, but Slowly for Drug, Vaccine Developers


The U.S.-Cuba relationship for life sciences collaborations has great possibilities but also the uncertainty that life sciences leaders have said discourages investment and slows innovation.

President Obama’s efforts to thaw relations between the U.S. and Cuba have special resonance for me and others who grew up during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis that led to a U.S. economic embargo that generally bans the import and export of goods with Cuba.

Obama visited Cuba in March and has lifted some travel and trade restrictions.

Cuba has over the years developed its own life sciences industry, which has developed drugs and vaccines that are unobtainable in the U.S., piqued the interest of U.S. companies and created medical tourism in Cuba for terminally- ill U.S. citizens who, under U.S. travel restrictions, have gone there for treatment by way of Canada or Peru.

But the embargo remains in place and, according to congressional insiders, is likely to remain so as long as Republicans control either the House or Senate. This leaves U.S. life sciences companies wishing to obtain approval to test and ultimately market drugs developed in Cuba in the U.S. one option: obtaining a license from the U.S. Treasury, which can take a while. This is the reason for the uncertainty that life sciences companies are battling.

I wrote a Special Report for Bloomberg BNA that describes the current situation, the efforts of some U.S. companies and nonprofits to obtain licenses, and some of the drugs and vaccines for which they want the licenses. It also lists an organization’s recommendations of things a U.S. president can do now to improve the situation. You can find the report here.

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