PhD in Sociology and Anthropology of Health
Thesis defended on 26 Septembre 2019: Innovating against cancer in Cuba: Immunotherapy, public health, and global circulations
Under the supervision of Ilana Löwy
Since their seminal research on the anti-cancer applications of interferon in the early 1980s, Cuban pharmaceutical laboratories, entirely state-managed, have developed many innovating forms of treatment in the area of cancer immunotherapy: therapeutic vaccines and monoclonal antibodies. These still experimental biotechnologies hold a key position in the national anti-cancer program and should contribute to reducing the incidence and death rates of the disease, currently the first cause of mortality in the country. In addition, these oncological treatments have been exported since the 1990s and are integrated into the Cuban plan of economic recovery through the development of biotechnologies and health services, set up in a context of the deep economic crisis resulting from the disappearance of the USSR compounded by the US embargo of the 1990s. Cuban biotechnologies are mostly exported to the countries of the South and, in certain cases, to Europe and the United States. This integration of Cuban drugs into the global market has been made possible by the many international exchanges facilitated by the Cuban government, whether with countries in political solidarity, medical NGOs, or pharmaceutical firms through the constitution of joint ventures.
As part of a sociology of innovation associated with the emerging field of anthropology of global health, our research aims to question the concepts of transfers – of technology, standards, or knowledge – and the “style of practice” characteristic of medical oncology by highlighting specific repossessions, shifts, and innovations in the field of Cuban biotechnologies. With this intention, we will focus on certain cancer immunotherapy treatments by describing their trajectories in order to analyze the interactions between public-health schemes, the laboratories developing these treatments, medical NGOs, and international pharmaceutical firms.