BioCubaFarma Attributes its Financial Difficulties to Investment in Vaccines Against COVID

Cuban pharmacies have looked like this image for a long time, but in the last two years the situation has worsened. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, September 15, 2022 — The directors of BioCubaFarma said, on Wednesday, that the state-owned company hasn’t been able to collect most of the $200 million profit allegedly obtained from the sale abroad of the Soberana and Abdala vaccines. In 2021, BioCubaFarma said, it spent half of its resources on the production of COVID vaccines but so far has been unable to recover its investment.

“At the end of last year. we managed to export a good quantity of vaccines, for more than $200 million. Today, nine months later, we haven’t been able to receive much of that income, because there is no way for the money to get here. The income was intended for buying medicines,” Eduardo Martínez Díaz, president of the pharmaceutical business group, said on Wednesday.

The doctor did not give details about the countries where the vaccines were sold or at what amounts, although it’s known that Vietnam bought five million doses. Mexico announced the acquisition of nine million Abdala doses, which would not yet enter the account. The Island also exported Soberana to Iran, the country with which it jointly developed the serum, and Venezuela, in addition to a small batch to other Central American countries. Finally, Nicaragua bought seven million doses at a unit price of seven dollars, according to a document released by the newspaper Confidencial that referred to the request for a loan to the World Bank to pay the amount.

The origin of the “retained” money, according to the Cuban authorities, was not revealed, although the president of BioCubaFarma indicated that the banks refuse to transfer money to the Island due to the U.S. embargo and Cuba’s inclusion in the list of countries that sponsor terrorism.

This is another of the reasons that the official pointed out as a fundamental cause for the shortage of medicines on the Island, discussed this Wednesday on State TV’s Roundtable program.

Martínez Díaz explained that BioCubaFarma manufactures 996 products, of which 369 belong to the ‘basic table’ (composed of a total of 627 items). He calculated that this saves the country, 1.5 billion dollars. However, the accounts still don’t balance, because that production is in serious trouble.

The situation, according to the pharmaceutical directors invited last night, has been aggravated by the scarcity and increase in the prices of raw materials and logistics in the international market, which also affects, they said, other countries, such as Mexico and Brazil. In addition, they assert that the embargo makes some raw materials more expensive because of the distance from which they must be brought, although that explanation is misleading since the U.S. also imports from China and India the same active ingredients that it uses in its pharmaceutical industry.

Among the missing medications, the list provided was extensive. Antihypertensives, which are taken by up to three million Cubans, antiarrhythmics, cytostatics, contraceptives, antibiotics, antiparasitics, psychopharmaceuticals and antiallergenics were cited.

The situation is such that the vice president of BioCubaFarma, Tania Urquiza Rodríguez, indicated that priority levels have been established for the 369 drugs manufactured by the pharmaceutical company (MediSol takes care of the rest): 262 with level 1, 81 with level 2 and 26 with level 3.

“However, the situation is so complex that we have had to establish a priority within priority 1, which is the majority of medicines. We are giving priority to hemodialysis, because it”s a medicine that, if the patient who needs dialysis doesn’t get it, he loses his life,” said the official, who added serums, dextrose, sodium chloride, Ringer with lactate, and control card products to the list, which are the ones that guarantee the treatment of chronic diseases.” To produce these 63 medicines, it takes $43 million a year,” about 10 or 12 million quarterly, and if a component is missing, manufacturing is impossible.

If the situation has been complex so far, it was clear last night that it can get much worse. Urquiza Rodríguez said that there are almost six million people registered on cards with one of the 12 most widely used drugs in Cuba (five antihypertensives, two diuretics, one anticoagulant, metformin for diabetes, isosorbide dinitrate for heart failure and two aerosols for asthma: salbutamol and fluticasone).

“An attempt has been made to maintain the stability of these 12 medicines during the year, but we worry that by the end of the year the raw materials will be running out. We are working hard with suppliers to ensure the arrival of raw materials in the country,” he said.

Meanwhile, the biopharmaceutical industry is still engaged in a new research task: the dengue fever vaccine. Eduardo Martínez explained that the process has been going on for ten years. “It’s a very complex vaccine, and today there really is no effective and safe immunogen, in addition to the fact that there are four dengue serotypes,” he said.

In Cuba, work is being done on a serum aimed at inducing a cellular response against one of the dengue variants, although he did not specify which one. “We have a vaccine possibility with which we plan to move forward quickly, although we don’t yet have a prognosis of when we could be evaluating it in humans; but we are progressing fast,” he said.

The only vaccine approved against dengue, with the trade name of Dengvaxia and manufactured by the French company Sanofi Pasteur, began to be sold in 2021, after approvals in 2018 and 2019 by international regulators, including from the U.S. and Europe. The vaccine is only recommended in countries with a high prevalence of the disease or for people who have already had dengue before, and is suitable for all four variants, but it is not available in Cuba.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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