One of Cuba’s coronavirus vaccines has shown 62 per cent efficacy in late-stage trials, using just two out of the three recommended doses.
Phase 3 interim results presented over the weekend for the Soberana 2 vaccine, named after the Spanish word for sovereign, surpassed efficacy thresholds required for approval by regulators and health agencies worldwide, including the World Health Organization.
Vicente Vérez Bencomo, director-general at the country’s Finlay Institute of Vaccines, said it was a very encouraging result “obtained in a scenario of viral variant circulation”.
Last month, Cuban officials indicated the Beta variant, first identified in South Africa, had become dominant in the country. That variant has shown the greatest degree of immune escape — or lack of response — across vaccines, though the Soberana 2 results appear to offer hope.
Vérez Bencomo told reporters he expected late-stage results of the three-dose regimen to “of course be superior”. The 62 per cent figure refers to a two-dose regimen.
Cuba has several vaccine candidates in development, and has begun deploying two: Abdala and Soberana 2. All the vaccines are protein-based, meaning a part of the virus’s spike protein has been deployed to train the immune system to fend off the virus. These types of vaccines are usually cheaper and easier to manufacture.
Officials told reporters they expected to be able to apply for full emergency approval from the country’s drug watchdog in the coming weeks. A preprint and full results were not yet available, though that has been a common occurrence with interim analyses of other vaccines during the pandemic. Health officials said the data were analysed by an independent group of experts.
WHO, which is the early stages of assessing Cuba’s vaccines as part of its emergency use listing process, welcomed the news. Soumya Swaminathan, the health body’s chief scientist, said she looked forward to seeing the complete data.
“Vaccines with good efficacy and safety profiles that meet WHO benchmarks are welcome. The world needs more supplies and vaccines that have easier storage conditions, are easy to manufacture and scale and affordable are welcome,” she told the Financial Times.
“Technology transfer of the most promising candidates to manufacturers across the world is the best way to increase supplies to meet global demand.”
Global health officials have said a wide range of vaccinations is needed to ensure the pandemic can be stemmed.
Cuban officials have said they would be open to licensing the intellectual property around the vaccines with a small profit margin to subsidise the country’s universal healthcare system.
Cuba, which has been an exporter of vaccines for years, remains under US embargo, with dire consequences on its economy and health system. It has developed other coronavirus drugs, such as Jusvinza, which is used in patients hospitalised with Covid-19 who are critically ill.
There have been 166,368 confirmed cases to date in the country, with 1,148 deaths, according to data compiled by the Johns Hopkins University.