The Cuban Drug Fighting Coronavirus

Cuban interferon alfa-2b, marketed as heberon alfa r

Want to find out more about the Cuban interferon alfa-2b (marketed as Heberon Alfa R), that is helping fight against the coronavirus all around the world? You’re in luck because here’s  what you need to know about it.

If you don’t want to read this whole article, big takeaways are: 

Note:  throughout this article COVID-19 and coronavirus are used interchangeably. Both terms refer to the same virus

Cuban interferon alfa-2b is not a vaccine.

Interferons are a form of protein that naturally occur in your body and help your body produce enzymes that can fight viruses. In the 70s a Finnish scientist, Kari Cantrell, discovered how to synthesize interferons in small quantities – meaning he figured out a process to make them in a lab using white blood cells. Cantrell, presumably because he believed in science for the public good rather than for profit, declined to patent the process to synthesize interferons. Instead he shared that process with the world and he showed Cuban scientists (among others) how to replicate it. Cuban scientists took that process for synthesizing small quantities of interferons back to the island and figured out a way to synthesize them in large quantities. And then they used that process to develop Cuban interferon alfa-2b.

How does Cuban interferon alfa-2b work? 

Interferon alfa-2b is not a COVID-19  vaccine. It doesn’t cure the coronavirus. What it does is trick an infected patient’s body into producing more enzymes that attack viruses (and cancer cells) thus boosting that patient’s immune system. The way it works means that interferon alfa-2b is a treatment that can help patients suffering from several different diseases – not just the coronavirus. 

In Cuba interferon alfa-2b was first used to fight an outbreak of dengue that killed 101 children. It was then used to develop Cuba’s vaccine for meningitis B (the world’s first) and to develop Cuba’s vaccine for hepatitis B. It’s also currently being used by Cuban scientists to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus. Let’s hope they or China beat the US to that vaccine because the US is definitely gonna privatize that shit.🙃 

Anyway!

To reiterate, Cuban interferon alfa-2b on it’s own is not a “cure” or “vaccine” for COVID-19 but it is an antiviral medication that has been used with success to save lives during the coronavirus epidemic in China – 1500 according to Cuban news. It is that success that led Italy to request the Cuban interferon alfa-2b along with Cuban doctors. It’s also why Cuban interferon alfa-2b  is currently being used in Spain, and will soon be used in Nicaragua, Panama, Jamaica, and Chile, among 15 other nations that have asked for it.

Does the US already have Cuban interferon alfa-2b?

No ma’am, it does not. Thanks to the US blockade on Cuba, Cuban interferon alfa-2b is not available in the US. What is available in the US is a brand name with a privately held patent – Intron A. Intron A is not Cuban interferon alfa-2b – also known as Heberon Alfa R.

Heberon Alfa R is a specifically Cuban developed and manufactured drug – it is only made in Cuba and China using a Cuban invented process – and it is not available in the US. Intron A is an antiviral medication with similar indications (though a different formulation) and it is manufactured by a for-profit pharmaceutical corporation based in the US. Intron A can cost up to $800 for a prescription without insurance and around $300 with. Heberon® Alfa R is freely available to Cuban citizens and is currently being made freely available to fight the coronavirus pandemic around the world. The drug being used to treat coronavirus patients in China, Spain, Italy, etc is the Cuban version of interferon alfa-2b: Heberon Alfa R. 

Why does Cuba have it’s own version of interferon alfa-2b?

The reason why Cuba has its own version is first and foremost the US blockade which prevents Cuba from buying most things from most countries. The US blockade also prevents a substantial amount of medical cooperation between the US and Cuba, which means many, many affordable Cuban medical and biotechnological innovations that could save many, many lives – not just Cuban interferon alfa- 2b – are not accessible to American citizens

But also, as mentioned earlier, the Finnish scientist who initially discovered how to synthesize interferons in small amounts declined to patent the process he found. He shared it with Cuba, he shared it with Japan, he shared it with Denmark, and he shared it with the US. However, because there was no patent on the process, for-profit pharmaceutical corporations were able to get it too and one of those corporations was able to develop a drug of its own, patent it, and sell it – thus the extremely expensive Intron A.

To reiterate: the drug being used in China, in Italy, in Spain, and soon in Jamaica, Chile, Nicaragua, and Panama is specifically the Cuban developed interferon alfa-2b that the Cuban government is making freely available along with it’s doctors: Heberon Alfa R. It is not not the patented drug available in the US that costs hundreds of dollars for a prescription: Intron A.

Why is Cuba giving it away to fight COVID-19? 

Here I’ll quote a Cuban comrade, Jose Perez: “Cuba could end its economic woes right now just by trademarking and marketing the drug. The world is desperate for it so – from a greedy arse capitalist point of view – they could make a lot of money. But we both know why Cuba is not doing that.” 

Why is Cuba not trademarking, marketing, and selling a drug they could be making bank off of right now? Why is Cuba choosing to make it freely available instead? The same reason why it’s sending doctors into quarantine zones all over the world with no expectation of payment or reciprocation: because Cuba is not interested in profiting off a crisis. Because Cuba understands we’re all in this together. Because Cuba understands life and revolutionary international solidarity are more important than money. Because Cuba is fucking socialist.

Viva Cuba! 

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