Date: 1980
Owner: Google Images
Source Type: Images

In the early 1980s, many scientists considered interferon to be a new wonder drug with the potential to treat cancer (this TIME magazine cover is from March, 1980). Interferon is a protein produced naturally by the immune system to combat viruses and bacteria and bioengineers have developed means to produce enhanced versions of this protein by binding it with various molecules. The potential for profit and humanitarian benefit that interferon seemed to promise prompted Fidel Castro to focus Cuba's scientific efforts on biotechnology in order to attain the means to manufacture and market this drug. Thus, in 1981, Cuban scientists traveled to Houston and Helsinki to study the production of interferon and, with equipment purchased from Finland, Germany, and Japan, Cuba soon developed a significant interferon industry. By 1986, Cuba was the world's second leading producer of the human leukocyte interferon and the knowledge gained from its development provided the foundation for its biotechnology industry to expand, especially in the creation of other bio-engineered treatments and vaccines. Although interferon was discredited as a wonder drug for cancer, production has continued in Cuba because of several newly discovered applications. The recombinant alpha 2B interferon, one of the major products of Cuba's biotechnology centers, has proven effective at halting the progress of AIDS in HIV positive patients who have yet to show any symptoms.


CITATION: "TIME Cover: 03-31-1980 on Interferon." Photographer:  Henry Grosinski.  Courtesy of Google Images.