Interferon ALPHA-2B, an antiviral drug marketed under the trade name Intron-A. It has been used for a wide range of indications, including viral infections and cancers.

Newsweek– Cuba has mobilized its medical corps around the world to distribute a new “wonder drug” that officials there say is capable of treating the new coronavirus despite the United States’ strict sanctions that continue to pressure the communist-run island.

The drug, called Interferon Alpha-2B Recombinant (IFNrec), is jointly developed by scientists from Cuba and China, where the coronavirus COVID-19 disease outbreak first emerged late last year.

Already active in China since January, the Cuban Medical Brigades began deploying to dozens of nations, providing personnel and products such as its new anti-viral drug to battle the disease that has exceeded 400,000 confirmed cases across the globe. As of Tuesday, over 100,000 people have recovered from the infection and more than 18,000 have died.

Cuba first used advanced interferon techniques to treat dengue fever in the 1980s and later found success in using it to combat HIV, human papillomavirus, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and other diseases.

The use of Interferon Alpha-2B Recombinant “prevents aggravation and complications in patients reaching that stage that ultimately can result in death,” Cuban biotech expert Luis Herrera Martinez said, according to a recent Yale University Press Blog feature written by the University of Glasgow’s Helen Yaffe. She called the treatment a potential “wonder drug” against the new coronavirus.

Yaffe, who recently authored a book on Cuba’s post-Soviet economic experience entitled We Are Cuba!, told Newsweek that she knew of at least 15 countries that have contacted Cuba to request the drug, along with “local mayors and hospital directors who are anxious to get hold of the Cuban anti-viral to meet the crisis.” Though not yet proven by the World Health Organization, Interferon Alpha-2B Recombinant was accepted along with 30 other drugs to treat COVID-19 by China’s National Health Commission.

Cuba’s ambitious anti-pandemic efforts are hindered, however, by decades-long U.S. sanctions that one Cuban official described to Newsweek as “the main obstacle not only to respond to major health crises like COVID-19, but the main obstacle to the country’s development at any area.”

“The lifting of the blockade against Cuba would have an extraordinarily positive impact on Cuba and mostly in the health sector, which has been one of the most damaged areas since the establishment of the blockade almost 60 years ago with more than 3 billion in economic losses,” the official added.

cuba, medical, brigade, italy, flags, coronavirus
Doctors and nurses of Cuba’s Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade are bid farewell before they travel to hard-hit Italy to help in the fight against the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, at the Central Unit of Medical Cooperation in Havana, on March 21. Cuba has dispatched medical personnel to dozens of countries around the world in hopes of helping to ease a global crisis that has already killed nearly 20,000 people around the world. YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images

The State Department has said it would offer assistance to sanctioned countries facing this new coronavirus, repeatedly mentioning Iran and North Korea but not Cuba in recent statements. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did, however, single out the country along with several others earlier this month while discussing the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices that targeted Cuba over its single-party system, imprisonment of political prisoners and other abuses reported by the U.S.

The State Department has not yet responded to Newsweek‘s request for comment. The Cuban Foreign Ministry regularly rejects such accusations, arguing that Washington’s embargo was instead the true violation of international law and highlighting Havana’s humanitarian contributions.

“Despite the blockade, Cuban doctors are working in 59 countries around the world, 37 of which have confirmed cases of COVID-19,” the Cuban official told Newsweek.

These countries include Latin American and Caribbean countries such as Grenada, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Suriname and Venezuela but also Italy, which has witnessed the deadliest COVID-19 outbreak to date. The disease has no veritable vaccine or cure yet, but Havana hoped to demonstrate its ability to at least alleviate health crises on an international scale.