After Fidel met the famous American specialist Randolph Lee Clark, he began in Cuba the project to obtain interferon to make it accessible to our people, since its price in the market at that time was unattainable. Doctors Manuel Limonta Vidal and Victoria Ramírez Albajés, now deceased, were the first selected to visit Anderson Hospital and the Cancer Research Institute in Houston, Texas, and learn directly about the particularities of the use of interferon in cancer. From this experience, they learned that it was essential to manage a training in the laboratory of Professor Kari Cantell, in Helsinki, Finland, to know and incorporate the methodology of IFN production from white blood cells. Kari Cantell had first isolated the interferon molecule in 1972. This professor had shown humanism by publishing the method of obtaining and purifying interferon, and not patenting it, so that any researcher could read his publications and train in his laboratory. Faced with this possibility, Fidel decided to send a group of six scientists to Finland. His personal doctor, Professor Eugenio Selman, after contacting the Finnish professor and learning about his disposition, was in charge of completing the team with four other prestigious doctors who came from the National Center for Scientific Research (CENIC): Ángel Aguilera Rodríguez, Pedro López Saura (deceased), Eduardo Pentón Arias and Silvio Barcelona Hernández.
The house 149
A house in the Cubanacán neighborhood, Playa, in Havana, marked with the number 149, with only 180 square meters of surface, in a few days was transformed into a laboratory to produce leukocyte interferon or interferon alfa-2b. The small group of professionals obtained the first molecule achieved in Cuba by genetic engineering from human leukocytes. Thus, the first steps were taken for the development of Cuban biotechnology, in search of treatments for viral diseases and cancer. On May 28, 1981, the first batch of leukocyte IFN was obtained, the quality of which had to be verified by an independent authority. Kari Cantell, in Finland, certified that the Cuban interferon was similar to the one obtained in his laboratory, it was a bioequivalent, it did not have a substantial difference with the one they produced. This gave validity to our interferon to be used in Cuba and exported later when its recombinant counterpart was obtained. From then on, it began to be produced systematically. Today, in this house are the CIGB Pharmacogenomics and Clinical Studies Laboratories.
For the first time the interferon produced in Cuba is used
The 1981 hemorrhagic dengue epidemic put the lives of the Cuban child population at risk, and it was decided to apply the IFN obtained in the country. This was also the first time that the product was used in this disease in the world. Another epidemic, hemorrhagic conjunctivitis, which hit Cuba in 1981, was the target of a new application with leukocyte IFN to prevent keratitis, a complication that can damage vision. Other clinical studies began that same year, many of which were presented at international conferences and published in scientific journals. The leukocyte interferon would thus become the model to achieve the accelerated development of genetic engineering and modern biotechnology in Cuba and its obtaining in 58 days was recognized by Kari Cantell himself, as a speed record from that visit of six Cubans to their laboratory.