[Marxism] A Biotechnology Powerhouse is Emerging Off Our Shores (WSJ)

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Tue Nov 25 03:57:57 MST 2003


November 25, 2003

A Biotechnology Powerhouse
Is Emerging Off Our Shores

Boasting one of the most developed biotech industries in
the Third World, Cuba recently announced its researchers
created a low-cost synthetic vaccine to combat respiratory
infections in children -- specifically those caused by the
bacteria haemophilus influenzae type B, Wired News

"This is the first vaccine for humans made with a
chemically produced antigen, Cuban scientist said. The
available, conventional vaccine is made using a difficult
and more costly process of growing antigens in a bacterial
culture," according to Wired News.

The discovery, scheduled to be introduced this week at a
biotechnology conference in Havana, is a good example of
how the island nation's biotech industry has garnered

In the 1990s, following the Soviet Union's collapse, Cuba
decided to diversify its economy with biotechnology
investments. "It was Cuba's $1 billion gamble -- to train
an army of scientists, develop a sprawling biotech industry
and tackle every affliction from cancer to AIDS," according
to a Miami Herald article2 last week.

Cuba has sought biotech alliances with other nations. In
Malaysia, for example, Cuba has "active links with" several
of that country's universities, and "discussions with
institutes dedicated to biotechnology in Malacca were
currently underway," a Cuban diplomatic official said3 in
the Malaysian newspaper the Star.

"We are also dealing with some private companies that are
working with us on the introduction of several biotech
products in Malaysia, and to develop joint-ventures for
sales here and in the regional market," the official said.

But some in the U.S. government "remain suspicious of
Cuba's intentions and reiterate their assertion that the
socialist nation is running a secret germ warfare program,"
the Miami Herald said.


Mark Ingebretsen is an author and free-lance writer who has
written on business, finance and health issues for the past
twenty years. His articles have appeared in Esquire, Sports
Illustrated, Chicago, TheStreet.com, Online Investor, and
Better Homes & Gardens, where he served as senior features
editor. During his career, Mr. Ingebretsen has helped
develop several business magazines, including The Best of
Business, Topline and Overseas Business.

His most recent book, "Why Companies Fail," is available
from Prima Publishing. He also wrote "Nasdaq: A History of
the Market that Changed the World" (Prima Publishing, 2002)
and "The Guts and Glory of Day Trading" (Prima Publishing,

Mr. Ingebretsen received his B.J. from the University of
Missouri School of Journalism and attended the University
of Iowa Graduate Writers Workshop. He and his family live
in Des Moines.

November 24, 2003

Cuba aims for stronger trade ties

THE Caribbean island of Cuba has been experiencing steady
economic recovery since the severe economic recession in
the early 1990s.

The communist regime of Fidel Castro, still grappling with
economic sanctions imposed on it by the United States in
1961, has been taking measures to increase enterprise
efficiency in a bid to overcome the shortage of food, goods
and services.

When the Cuban constitution was reformed in 1992, new
articles were introduced where the Cuban state acknowledged
the rights of and gave guarantees to foreign investors.

The multiplier effect of foreign investments has been
evident. Up to 1999, 497 international economic
associations were created in Cuba, of which 374 remain

Despite the US trade embargo, Cuba is doing well to keep on
its feet, according to Cuban Ambassador to Malaysia, Pedro
Monzon Barata.

"There is no one living in the streets in Cuba. Education
and medicine is provided free to our citizens. My country
is even providing scholarship aid to students in poor
countries like Timor Leste.

"Despite the US blockade, our economy has been growing
steadily," he said.

Located between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic
Ocean, 150km south of Florida, Cuba is counting on its
close ties with countries like Malaysia to push forward

Cuban products have begun to weave their way into the
Malaysian market, and Monzon Barata, a former university
professor, has been at the forefront of efforts to promote
his country's business profile here.

Besides the famous Cuban cigars, other products being made
available here include Cuban wines, beer, rum, coffee,
cosmetics and music CDs.

"Two months ago, we brought in a consignment of Cuban wines
and the response was very good due to the taste and
attractive pricing," the envoy said.

Cuban cigars are an established product in Malaysia, and
Monzon Barata said demand here was growing rapidly.

The establishment of Havana Cigar clubs at hotels and
nightspots here is a testimony to this, he added.

"Our cigars may be expensive, but I assure you that you are
paying for real quality," said the ambassador, who brought
out a case filled with expensive cigars of the Pinar del
Rio and Cohiba varieties, which he priced between RM30 and
RM60 each.

He said the Trinidad group of companies here had been
involved in the cigar industry for over a decade,
describing it "as the driving force in developing the cigar
market here."

The group is the official distributor for Cuban cigars in
Malaysia, and also distributes other renowned brands such
as Montecristo, Romeo & Julieta, Bolivar and Partagas.

Apart from Cuban cigars, Trinidad's cigar portfolio
includes Nat Sherman from New York, Monsenor from Colombia
and Malaysia's very own Borneo Cigars from Sabah.

Monzon Barata said the Trinidad group, which operated a
distribution network throughout Malaysia, was the exclusive
supplier of premium cigars for most hotels, F&B and retail
establishments here.

Recently, the group also secured distribution rights for
several other Cuban products, such as San Cristobal wines,
Coppelia ice-cream, Varadero rum and Cubita coffee.

"The appointment of the Trinidad group as the official
distributor in Malaysia is sound testimony of its
reputation in Cuba. For some of these products, Malaysia
will be the first country in Asia that the manufacturers
are exporting to," he added.

Pernod Ricard is also selling another brand of Cuban rum,
Havana Club, in Malaysia.

The ambassador said he had been informed that the group
planned to expand its area of distribution to cover other
countries in the region with Malaysia as the hub of

Apart from local distribution, the Trinidad group is also
involved in exporting locally produced merchandise and was
recently appointed as the buying agent for a chain of
retail stores in Cuba, for electronic products and

Monzon Barata expressed confidence that the group would
play an important role in expanding the trade volume
between Cuba and Malaysia.

"Their goal is to make Malaysia the regional hub of Cuban
products as well as to act as a conduit in exporting
Malaysian-made goods to Cuba and eventually to the greater
Latin American markets," he pointed out.

Posted here in October last year, the envoy said the
delicious Coppelia ice-cream was being produced in Ipoh
under a joint-venture with Jawala Corp.

"Coppelia is a new product in Malaysia but we are
optimistic that the product will sell very well," he added.

Those looking for variety in cosmetics, take note. Cuban
cosmetics and fragrances for men and women will be finding
their way into the local market.

"Cuba has a good range of cosmetics and we are having talks
now on developing trade with Malaysia in this sector," said
Monzon Barata.

In the field of biotechnology, he said Cuba had active
links with Universiti Malaya (UM), Universiti Putra
Malaysia (UPM), Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) and
Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas), adding that
discussions with institutes dedicated to biotechnology in
Malacca were currently underway.

"We are also dealing with some private companies that are
working with us on the introduction of several biotech
products in Malaysia, and to develop joint-ventures for
sales here and in the regional market.

"Where biotechnology is concerned, development in the
initial stages is usually slow but once things take off,
there would be significant results," he noted.

The envoy cited health, education and computing software as
the other sectors with potential in Cuba-Malaysia

"We are very interested in Malaysian computer software,
palm oil and rubber and we are making deals with you.

"There is frequent exchange of delegations between our
countries for the development of trade relations in these
fields," he added.

In conclusion, Monzon Barata said his Government was
seeking the help of progressive countries like Malaysia to
help end the long-drawn US economic, commercial and
financial blockade.

Cuban Vaccine to Help Poor Kids


Story location:

03:14 PM Nov. 23, 2003 PT

HAVANA -- Cuban researchers have developed the first
synthetic vaccine against a bacteria that causes pneumonia
and meningitis, a breakthrough aimed at lowering the cost
of immunizing children in poorer countries.

The vaccine protects against haemophilus influenzae type B,
a bacteria that causes upper respiratory infections, mainly
in children up to five years of age. The disease is a
leading cause of meningitis, an infection of the brain and
spinal cord coverings that can cause brain damage, deafness
or death.

The research on the new vaccine, which has already been
tested and put into production in Cuba, will be presented
on Wednesday to experts from the world over at a
biotechnology congress in Havana.

This is the first vaccine for humans made with a chemically
produced antigen, Cuban scientists said. The available,
conventional vaccine is made using a difficult and more
costly process of growing antigens in a bacterial culture.

"It took us six years," said Dr. Vicente Verez, head of the
University of Havana's Synthetic Antigens Laboratory. "But
what could be more precious for society than to have
healthy 2-month-old babies," he said.

Poor nations that depend on multinational pharmaceutical
companies for the vaccine -- now costing $3 a dose -- will
now have a less expensive alternative, Verez said.

The disease has been almost erased in the United States,
the U.S. Centers for Disease Control said. But it remains a
problem in developing countries where the cost of the
vaccine has been a barrier to widespread immunization.

Clinical trials conducted in the central Cuban province of
Camaguey, first on adult volunteers, then on four-year-old
children and finally on babies, showed a 99.7 percent
success rate in developing the required antibodies.

The technology for the new vaccine was patented in 1999 by
the University of Ottawa and the University of Havana. The
Canadians discovered how to simplify crucial chemical
reactions and Cuba applied the method on a larger scale,
Verez said.

Cuba could not afford the conventional vaccine when it
appeared a decade ago. The Cuban economy was in deep crisis
after the collapse of its communist ally the Soviet Union.
So Cuba turned to its own medical and biotechnology
industry, one of the most advanced in the Third World.

Havana has invested millions of dollars in the industry
since the 1980s, achieving major successes such as the
discovery of a recombinant vaccine for meningitis B, which
has been used in Latin American countries and was licensed
to GlaxoSmithKline for sale in Europe and possibly the
United States. It has also developed a hepatitis B vaccine
that is exported to more than 30 countries.

Haemophilus influenzae type B is the main cause of almost
half of the infections in children under five in the world
and kills 500,000 children a year, mostly in developing
countries, according to UNICEF.


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