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Biotechnology had its beginnings in Cuba in 1973 when scientists and physicians, including R. Lee Clark, M.D.(1906-1994), from M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas visited Havana and held discussions about new frontiers in biotechnology, esp. the possible use of in viral infections such as dengue. Following the lead from Dr. Clark, Cuban scientists were sent to Finland to learn how to make interferon from white blood cells. By 1983, Cuba had embraced biotechnology immediately in its quest to distance its GNP from complete dependency on commodities (sugar, nickel, tobacco, rum) and to venture into an arena, where if successful, would catapult Cuba into a select group of scientifically advanced (at least in biotechnology) nations.


R. Lee Clark, M.D.

Cuban scientists not only visited Houston but also were sent to Eastern European countries and the USSR to learn as much as they could about new procedures and techniques in biotechnology. Cuba allocated tens of millions of scarce dollars to build "state of the art" facilities. Unfortunately, in these early years, there was not enough money to fund "pure research". Everything was geared towards production and sales of biotechnology goods and services.

Today, Cuba has had considerable success in the area of vaccines, interferon, and monoclonal antibodies. HIV/AIDS research is very intense. Dr. Vicente Verez, head of the University of Havana's Synthetic Antigens Laboratory has announced Cuban production of Hemophilus influenza type B synthetic vaccine. Cuba hopes to develop an effective HIV vaccine in addition to producing abundant (enough for national use and international sales) of anti-HIV medications. Cuba takes the position that patents should not be enforced and poor nations and individuals should not have to pay for "expensive" medications manufactured by multinational "for profit" pharmaceutical corporations. So, Cuba offers an controversial as many other political postures Cuba embraces in the New Millennium.

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