News

Cuba makes cancer drug from venom of scorpions

...wants to sell product here

By HG HELPS Editor-at-Large helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, March 16, 2012    

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CUBA is trying to get a drug developed from the venom of scorpions to fight various cancers, on the shelves of Jamaican pharmacies by the end of the year.

Two Cuban officials are in Jamaica to help promote the drug, called Vidatox, an extract from the Rhopalrus Junceus scorpion, which is indigenous to the Socialist country, and already they have held talks with government officials as well as a major distributor.

Yesterday, an official from Jamaica's Ministry of Health confirmed that negotiations were well advanced for the distribution of the drug to begin here by mid-year, but said that Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson would say more on the matter in coming weeks. Messages were left for Dr Ferguson but calls were not returned.

"We are working very hard to have the drug on Jamaican shelves," said pharmacologist Dr Mariela Guevara Garcia, senior researcher and director of Cuba's Department of Clinical Studies.

The Havana resident and former lecturer in pharmacology at the Medical University of Havana told the Observer in an interview Wednesday that the drug, taken orally, was a safe product, with almost no side-effects and is being used by thousands of people worldwide to help in the treatment of many cancers, including prostate, lung, breast, colon, brain, cervix and pancreas.

The success rate so far, according to Dr Guevara Garcia, has been good, and in several cases, people suffering from cancer have been living longer, following usage of the drug.

It would be distributed as an over the counter product, thus not requiring a prescription, due to the natural products involved in its production, Dr Guevara Garcia said.

The Labiofam Entreprenurial Group, the medical & biological research arm of the Cuban Government, is responsible for the commercial development of the drug.

"We have been treating a lot of patients with this drug, mainly from Europe, as well as the United States, Asia, Mexico, Central America and South America. More than 25,000 patients from Italy alone come to Cuba for treatment," she said.

The drug took 15 years to develop in a Cuban laboratory after scientists began research on the properties of the scorpion. It was registered in Cuba in May of last year as Vidatox 30 CH as a cancer fighting drug that prolonged the life of cancer patients by boosting the immune system, reducing pain, and destroying cancerous tumours in some cases.

Natives in the North Caribbean island have used the venom to treat ailments for over 200 years, Guevara Garcia said, pushing the Cuban Government to find out whether or not there was merit in what the people had been saying all along that there was miracle in the sting.

"It took us 15 years to prove that the anti-inflammatory and anti-analgesic properties were true," Guevara Garcia added. "We did many pre-clinical studies that showed that all tests and everything that the population said about the venom were true," she said.

Now, the Cuban Government has moved to commercialise the project by starting scorpion-rearing farms across all provinces on the island, following a growing demand for Vidatox.

"We have many scorpion rearing farms in all counties. All their conditions for living are provided. We have to do the calculation of when we can extract the venom. The scorpion is not friendly, it is aggressive, but if it stings you, it won't kill you.

"When we take the scorpion from the farm to extract the venom, it is never killed but returned to the environment to guarantee ecological balance in the country and so that it can reproduce, providing that certain factors are in place, like climate, temperature, etc," Guevara Garcia said.

The scorpion grows to an average of four inches in length and the venom may be extracted from it every 21 days.

The most pressing action now is to register the product in various countries, a process that could involve a lot of bureaucracy. Requests have been made for the drug to be distributed in over 70 countries and the Cubans are prepared to wait.

"We are selling the product now in countries where registration is not a requirement," said Inarvis Martinez Monte de Oca, a senior official of the marketing and export division of Labiofam.

"We are trying to register the product in all countries. We have completed the registration in Guatemala and in a section of Italy, but in many other countries where it is being registered, the process takes months. But we are hoping for positive results from those countries, including Jamaica soon.

"Here we met with officials of the Ministry of Health to ensure that the requirements requested are met. After that, it's on to commercialisation. We are ready to send documents to the Jamaican authorities," she said.

Cuba is highly rated and well respected for its health care system. The island of over 12 million inhabitants trains other medical personnel from various countries of the world, including Jamaica.

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