The anti-viral drug Interferon Alfa-2B is considered one of the stars of the Cuban biotechnology boom and many have called it 'wonder drug' during the initial days when Coronavirus outbreak started. Now, the Caribbean country is aiming for a new milestone—the Coronavirus vaccine.
As per the official Cuban registry of clinical trials, the country is all set to test its own COVID-19 vaccine candidate—Soberana 01—next week. It was produced by the state-run Finlay Institute of Vaccines. The vaccine candidate will be tested during a phase I and II trial involving 676 adults that will include people from the age group between 19 and 80.
There are insufficient details about the Cuban vaccine, but the description given by the authorities has revealed that it is an RBD (receptor-binding domain) candidate. As per NCBI, "RBD of Spike protein (S) might be considered a good vaccine antigen because it induces neutralizing antibodies that prevent host cell attachment and infection."
Earlier, one SARS vaccine was created by researchers using this RBD of the SARS- CoV spike
(S) protein, according to the World Health Organization's data. That vaccine was developed by Baylor College Medicine, Sabin, New York Blood Center, University of Texas Medical Branch, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The Coronavirus Vaccine Candidate
As per the researchers, the most promising Coronavirus vaccine candidates are Moderna (mRNA-1273), AstraZeneca (AZD1222), and CanSino Biologics (Ad5-nCoV). The list of all the vaccines, developed by researchers from all over the world, doesn't include any RBD candidate vaccine name as of now that makes the Cuban vaccine the first one of its kind.
The mRNA vaccines are developed for providing acquired immunity through an RNA containing vector, such as lipid nanoparticles. Similar to mRNA, the AZD1222 also utilizes innovative technologies that incorporate delivering and producing the Covid-19 S-protein into the body to produce an immune response. Ad5-nCoV vaccine candidate is a genetically engineered vaccine candidate with the replication-defective adenovirus type 5 as the vector to express novel Coronavirus S-protein.
However, in recent times, among all other vaccine candidates, the Russian vaccine 'Sputnik V' has dominated news headlines—mostly due to concerns and lack of data about the trials. Russia's President Vladimir Putin claimed, "I know that it works quite effectively, forms strong immunity, and I repeat, it has passed all the needed checks." He also alleged that his own daughter had received the supposed vaccine to prove that Russia's vaccine is safe.
But the research community is not ready to agree with Russia's claims about Sputnik V, as Gamaleya Institute in Moscow has not released any of the safety or immunity data from these trial studies, which makes this vaccine not trustworthy.
But, unlike Russia, Cuban authorities have promised that the findings of its vaccine trials will be published in February 2021. It was also said that Cuban research will assess both safety and the resulting immune response.
The authorities said that the Cuban study will be a "randomized controlled, double-blind trial." It means the doctors and the volunteers will not know who will receive Soberana 01—and the recipients will be selected randomly. The participants in the control group will be injected with another vaccine for meningitis produced in Cuba.
One of the well-known epidemiologists in Cuba, Francisco Durán recently said that the finding of an effective Coronavirus vaccine is now the "top priority" for Cuba's science and innovation system.
The Wonder Drug and Cuban Biotechnology Industry
Cuba's biotech industry produces vaccines and drugs for local usage, including some medications which are exported overseas. At the initial stage of the Coronavirus pandemic a drug Interferon Alfa-2B—produced in China by a Cuban-Chinese joint venture ChangHeber—gained appreciation from experts.
The anti-viral drug has reportedly been effective in the treatment of human papillomavirus, HIV, Hepatitis B, and C, while reports claimed that it has been effective in the treatment of viruses that show similar characteristics like the novel Coronavirus. But later some studies showed mixed results about its effect to combat COVID-19.
However, the biotech labs in Cuba also produced several unproven homeopathic compounds that health authorities use as a preventive therapy to fight the Coronavirus. It was reported earlier that the Cuban government had planned to distribute a homeopathic remedy to elderly people in the country and some other people in the country to prevent the spread of the virus.
Recently, it was reported that Kiril Dmítriev, the head of the investment fund that financed Sputnik V said, "Cuba has a large capacity to produce medicines and vaccines with highly qualified staff. We could coordinate with its government to start the vaccine production in November."