CancerVax Seeks OK to License Cuban Drug

From Reuters

A California biotech company is seeking U.S. permission to license a promising Cuban cancer drug that is barred from the U.S. by trade sanctions, Cuban scientists said at a biotechnology conference this week.

CancerVax Corp., based in Carlsbad, wants to conduct joint research on cancer vaccines being developed in Havana, said Luis Herrera, director of Cuba's Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology.

CancerVax, which made its debut on Nasdaq on Oct. 30, said in its IPO prospectus filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it had signed letters of intent with Cuba's Center for Molecular Biology and Canada's YM Biosciences relating to the license of an antibody that can slow or halt tumors by acting on the body's immune system.

The antibody, which targets a cancer growth factor known as the HER-1 receptor, has been tested in Canada for head and neck cancer with positive results and is undergoing trials in China and India.

A definitive agreement on U.S. licensing for this technology will depend on government approval, including a license from the Treasury's office that enforces trade sanctions.

"We cannot be certain that such a license will be granted," CancerVax said in its prospectus.

The U.S. has granted only one license for a Cuban product since the embargo. In 1999, British pharmaceutical company Smith Kline Beecham, now GlaxoSmithKline, persuaded Washington to exempt a vaccine discovered by Cuba that was the world's first vaccine for the child-killing disease meningitis B.

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