Cuba's Billion-Dollar Biotech Gamble

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Science  27 Nov 1998:
Vol. 282, Issue 5394, pp. 1626-1628
DOI: 10.1126/science.282.5394.1626

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HAVANA, CUBA-- Cuban President Fidel Castro is staking much of his nation's science resources on biotechnology and has poured over $1 billion in the past 8 years into a large biomedical campus. This grand capitalist experiment in this communist country shows tantalizing hints of succeeding: Cuban scientists have already developed a couple of dozen products, including monoclonal antibodies, streptokinase--a drug used to break up blood clots--and the world's only available vaccine against meningitis B, and under development are cancer vaccines and other compounds that would be considered cutting-edge in U.S. labs. But Cuba's fledgling industry faces major obstacles to competing with its rivals in developed countries, not least of which being the 38-year-long U.S. embargo (see sidebar).