Cuba cits ‘world class’ trail in biotech research

HAVANA – On the outskirts of Havana sits a cluster of drab buildings that are part of an effort to propel Cuba to the forefront of biotechnology even as its population struggles with blackouts, shortages and crumbling infrastructure.
Known as the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, or CIGB, the institute is one of 52 government facilities dedicated to human, animal and agricultural research that have recorded a string of successes.
Using more than $1 billion in state funding, Cuban scientists have produced a hepatitis B vaccine sold in more than 30 countries and streptokinase, a potent enzyme that dissolves blood clots and improves the survival rate of heart attack victims. The country also makes recombinant interferon that strengthens the immune system of cancer patients and a meningitis B vaccine.
In the pipeline are products ranging from an injection that closes ulcers and improves circulation in diabetics to vaccines against cholera and hepatitis C, according to Cuban officials.
“We’ve been very impressed by the biotech industry in Cuba,” said Anne Walsh, vice president for communications at GlaxoSmithKline, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. “It’s world class.”
Yet despite Cuba’s success in the laboratory, some experts question whether a poor country should be spending scarce resources on research. The country’s production of milk, beef and other foods has fallen even as its scientists embark on years-long efforts to produce genetically modified rice, corn and other crops that are disease resistant.
“Thinking big in the context of widespread needs and shortages is irresponsible,” said Damian Fernandez, director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University.
There also is a question of whether Cuba is using its biotech industry to develop biological weapons. The U.S. State Department leveled the bioweapons charge against Cuba in 2002 but in August softened its stance and said the evidence is inconclusive.
But even the suggestion that Cuban scientists may be involved in a weapons program infuriates Carlos Borroto, CIGB’s deputy director.
“Our biotech (industry) is so public, so transparent,” he said. “The people who are working here, you could (threaten to) kill them and they would not produce a bioweapon.”
Borroto and other officials said the island’s biotechnology sector has already played an important role in improving health care in Cuba while also providing low-cost vaccines and other medicines to developing countries.
The industry is slowly becoming an important revenue source for this cash-starved nation, earning an estimated $300 million a year, officials say.
“We have some advantage because our products are the same quality as the rest of the world, and most of the time they are cheaper,” said Sergio Perez Talavera, sales manager in Asia for Herber Biotec SA, CIGB’s commercial branch.
Cuba’s biotechnology industry started from scratch more than two decades ago after visiting American scientists met with Cuban President Fidel Castro and told him about the potential benefits of interferon in cancer treatment.
The nation’s first biotechnology laboratory opened in 1981 with six researchers, and the government poured money into the sector even after Cuba’s economy took a nosedive following the collapse of the Soviet Union, then the island’s main benefactor.
Today, thousands of scientists work in what is known as the Polo Cientifico, a series of facilities that include the Finlay Institute, developer of the meningitis B vaccine, and the National Center for Bioreagents, a huge plant whose leading product is the hepatitis B vaccine.
The crown jewel of Cuba’s biotech industry is CIGB, a collection of manufacturing facilities, greenhouses and research laboratories.
This month CIGB played host to Havana’s annual biotechnology conference, drawing 250 experts from Germany, Mexico and three dozen other nations to discuss ways to improve agricultural production.
Among the Cuban scientists presenting their research at the conference was Rolando Moran, who has spent more than a decade trying to genetically modify the sweet potato to resist attack by the weevil larva, a ravenous pest.
Moran said his work is still in the experimental stage but hopes it can someday increase crop yields. He praised the Cuban government for supporting his research but said funds are tight.
Jose de la Fuente, a former top CIGB scientist who is an Oklahoma State University professor, said the growth of Cuba’s biotechnology industry is threatened by another problem: the intrusion of politics into science.
He said many top Cuban researchers studied and worked in Europe, Japan and the United States but authorities are increasingly preventing Cuban researchers from traveling abroad if they do not support Castro’s one-party system.
“This does not create a good atmosphere for good science,” said de la Fuente, who left Cuba in 1999 after losing his job at CIGB.
Even under optimal conditions, it would be tough for impoverished Cuba to go head-to-head in the global arena against the pharmaceutical heavyweights.
Yet, while Western …

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Bill Metzger’s biz.biotech.* criticisms

Unfortunately, my access provider’s Usenet feed crashed for a while, so I
didn’t receive the following message, posted on April 5. I will include
the whole post for context, and respond afterwards.

-This should be a moderated newsgroup and I support Stefan Grunewald in his
-past work.

-I find the current proposal by Jeff Rawlings to be a little restrictive and
-seemingly couched in terms of his own perspective as an Internet Consultant
-and Research Biologist.  Stefan Grunewald seems to approach the subject with
-much more of an open mind without seeking to restrict the flow of information
-on the forum.  I can foresee the future when there may be need to break out
-into sub sets of people who are seeking the very focused type of self
-interest groups that Jeff appears to be promoting but don’t believe it’s
-reached that point yet.  I am an engineer by training and a business man by
-choice, even though I have been awarded five patents, and I enjoy the wide
-ranging interchange of ideas and technology that the forum offers.  In this
-case the primary focus is business oriented (hence the name biz.) and if it’s
-used for a scientific interchange also then so be it.

-I find the approach to restricting the biotech to that of Mr.
-Rawlings field of interest to be somewhat limited at this time, although I
-think that in the future additional forums will make sense.  I’m just not
-sure the Internet is advanced enough in terms of membership to make it of
-much value right now and prefer the community approach. My of
– as consisting of science which addresses both the chemical
-physical in the areas of pharmaceuticals, medical devices, healthcare
-practice, and diagnostics appears to be much too broad also.  Both Jeff
-and I also seem to ignore the fact that can be further

broken -down to areas of interest in the animal, plant and human

-Perhaps before trying to set up a limited interest group moderated by Jeff
-we should decide on the breakdown of subjects that satisfy all of the readers,
-the intent of the forum as proposed by it’s title and the interest of the
-readers.  In other words, an organized approach to categorizing the sections
-of interest, then a measurement of the number of readers and lurkers who
-would be interested in each category

-When I asked Jeff whether we should poll the individuals subscribing to the
-biz-biotech list to see if any of them were interested other areas, such as
-medical application, he suggested that I do so.  I don’t mind doing the work
-but think it should be coordinated by Stefan Grunewald, along with any
-other topics or surveys which may interest readers and facilitate the
-organization of a NewsGroup(s) which would be easier to converse on.

-Like Jeff, I have specific areas of interest that I would like to see,
-such as possibly a Biz.medical or some such animal that would address a

large and meaningful segment of the contermporary economy.

-In the interim I would suggest that biz.biotech be converted to a newsgroup
-along with biz.biomarket with Stefan Grunewald as moderator.…

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Nature Biotechnology, September Issue: Survey Results; GE Rape

Surveys highlight growing public anxiety

This issue reports four new surveys of public attitudes to
carried out in the US, Canada, Europe, and Japan in the last 10 months.
Although the results vary to an extent from region to region, all the
surveys show that the number of people who are optimistic about the future
contribution of across several applications is declining and
that number of pessimists is increasing. They also suggest that public
attitudes are shaped by moral acceptability of specific
applications and that scientific literacy/knowledge has very little effect
on peoples attitudes.

In the US survey, which questioned 1002 respondents between April and May
2000, Susanna Priest reports that nearly 53% of respondents remain
optimistic about the contribution of genetic engineering to modern life;
however, a substantial proportion (30%) were of the opposite view.
Pessimists saw genetic engineering on a par with nuclear power. While
industry and consumer groups were seen in a positive light, government
regulatory bodies were not.

In Canada, a survey on public attitudes to cloning carried out in February
2000 on 1000 adults revealed a strong association between negative
attitudes toward cloning and attitudes toward in general. The
survey’s coordinator, Edna Einsiedel, suggests that this may be attributed to
the high profile of cloning stories in national newspapers. Overall, cloning
is perceived negatively because of strongly held beliefs that it is
against and that if any thing went wrong a global disaster
would ensue.

From the European survey (termed the Eurobarometer), which questioned
16,082 respondents in November 1999 in 16 countries, George Gaskell and his
colleagues also suggest that Europeans have become increasingly opposed to
GM foods, but remain supportive of medical and environmental applications.
Greater opposition to GM foods than to GM crops suggests that for the
public, food safety concerns outweigh environmental concerns. The survey
also reveals there is no specifically European position on .
The relative resistance to applications such as GM food
varies widely from country to country.

The final survey from Japan, which was coordinated by Darryl Macer and
Mary Ann Chen Ng and interviewed 297 people between November 1999 and February
2000, also reveals that support for is waning, although a
small majority of people (59%) still is optimistic about and
its applications. Even environmental applications of have
dropped in popularity in the past nine years, suggesting that bad
publicity concerning GM crops has tainted perceptions of other applications. An
accompanying survey of 370 Japanese scientists indicated that their
perceptions of mirror closely those of the public, although
they are more optimistic about its potential.…

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Biotech & sustainable agriculture

In general, particularly genetic engineering, is not a
fruitful approach in the quest for a sustainable agriculture. Sustainable
agriculture solves problems by understanding and adjusting the elements of
the system to achieve its goals. The approach minimizes the use of off-farm
products, such as pesticides and fertilizers, for both economic and
environmental reasons.

is basically an industry that develops products,
often expensive products, priced to cover the costs of research and
development. In general, new products are of minor importance to
sustainable agriculture. Moreover, such products may pose risks, some
unique, to human health and the environment.

UCS’s Agriculture and Program promotes the transition of
agriculture into an economically and environmentally sustainable system. We
define a sustainable agriculture as one that is both highly productive and
protective of the natural resources on which future productivity depends.
Much of modern agriculture is based on an industrial model that is not

The key to a sustainable agriculture lies in a new approach that focuses on
farms as systems with elements whose relationships can be changed to
accomplish the goals of growing crops and raising livestock. Such systems
rely on fewer pesticides and fertilizers. They seek to accomplish multiple
goals: quality products, profit for farmers, minimal environmental
pollution. A fundamental change in agriculture of this scope requires
coordinated policies: a new research agenda, new education and information
transfer programs, properly targeted subsidies, sensible environmental and
health regulation, and balanced trade policies. Currently, the UCS program
focuses on research agendas, education, and regulation.

As we take on the challenge of transforming agriculture, UCS is paying
special heed to the impact of a new set of technologies
emerging from the fields of molecular biology and genetics, usually
discussed under the general rubric of . Our program attempts
to evaluate those technologies for their potential to advance a sustainable
agriculture and to ensure that the products of the technology are properly

Sustainable Agriculture–A New Vision
What Is Industrial Agriculture?
New Policies for a New Agriculture
Risks of Genetic Engineering…

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This biotechnology information website is dedicated to providing real life information on the most frequently searched topics on Agricultural Biotechnology,Biotech Recruiters and Biotech Jobs for example. There are many sources to find similar information on these topics and this site will help provide those biotechnology resources to you. You can start navigating this site by selecting a main topic of discussion near the top – this will then give you the ability to drill down and read more discussions. Please spend some time here and review our pages. If you like it, please link to us!

Here is a great example of a biotechnology discussion:

How is the Biotech job sector?

I am interested to know about Biotech/lifesciences jobs situation now and prospects for the future (on behalf of nephews career decision), since the Gov is emphasising lifescience for long time. Agencies like A-Star seem to have money to throw on this area.

Also what about the Biopolis which was hyped in front page of ST more than an year ago, but nothing is said now? It was said to employ 2000 scientists or so and perform as a self contained city

All talks and no actions, I had this professor from Australa who was down here and gave some lectures. He told me nothing seems to be really happening, according to him he said it is not moving as fast as he thought it would be or nothing great. So, if you are expecting it to be something like the IT boom, then sorry to say it is just not happening yet or not here at all. But in America maybe, however, they are now very strict in giving
visas to students who wishes to pursue a science education like Biology, afraid you might later work for or build weapons of Bio nature for unsavoury people.

As far as i know the official opening of Biopolis is is slated for
completion from June 2003 to March 2004

Also, there have been rather good occupancy commitments from both the commercial and academic sectors. Was in the papers today that Novartis is scheduled to move their Institute for Tropical Diseases into Biopolis, doing research for TB and Dengue.

As far as I know the tenancy is filling out rather nicely.

For the life sciences development in Singapore to move along smoothly, it will require a joint effort from the government support branches e.g. EDB, A-star, the commercial sector ( the pharmaceuticals are the ones with alot of money to pump), the academic sector and of course the people will need to provide a viable skilled labour base that is up to mark to attract these
sectors into investing here.

>I am interested to know about Biotech/lifesciences jobs situation now >and prospects for the future (on behalf of nephews career decision), >since the Gov is emphasising lifescience for long time. Agencies like
>A-Star seem to have money to throw on this area.

>Also what about the Biopolis which was hyped in front page of ST more >than an year ago, but nothing is said now? It was said to employ 2000 >scientists or so and perform as a self contained city.

You didn’t indicate that he has a passion for this field. Just that
it might make him a good living.

I presume he intends to get a PhD to qualify for that biotech
scientist glam job. A PhD means he won’t start earning until his late 20s or early 30s. He will never retire with the same firm he
started with. Say by his late 30s or early 40s and the firm he is
employed in dumps him.

Can he find employment in another field? Can he make a living on his own? Has he that ability to take life in his own hands?
Take into consideration that Biotech projects live or die on grants and product development cycles. Worse biotech depends on fresh and young ideas. Employment will be discontinuous and uncertain. Years of experience has no advantage unless one is the top scientist or the boss. Look beyond what ST says and go read up the foreign professional journals where there are articles on employment statistics and job advertisements listed. The job specs there will be very sobering.

Electronics and physics is also pretty crowded at present just as in everything else. But at least it provides the skills that he can
design and make something on his own even if it is only repairing his car and wiring up the house. That is very important, the
constructional skills to actually make something, not just a
theoretical engineer designing stuff on a computer or managing a
production line. Here years of experience does have some relevance although we have come across very experienced and highly qualified EEs who, for …

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