Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc.’s top executive will join New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on a trade mission to Cuba, home to a state-sponsored biopharmaceutical industry, as the island nation’s relations with the U.S. begin to thaw.
Cuomo’s April 20 trip, accompanied by Regeneron Chief Executive Officer Leonard Schleifer and others, will make him the first U.S. governor to travel to the communist country since President Barack Obama lifted travel restrictions in January. On Tuesday, Obama also moved to remove Cuba from the list of nations that sponsor terrorism, which would make it easier for U.S. companies to do business there. The U.S. has embargoed trade with Cuba for more than 50 years.
“Len was asked by the governor to join the mission given he leads the state’s largest biotechnology company and has a long commitment to supporting New York state growth and development,” Hala Mirza, a spokeswoman for Tarrytown-based Regeneron, said by e-mail.
Cuba has backed local companies with the goal of producing drugs for export. As restrictions ease, U.S. companies may find partnership opportunities. The island nation is also well known for its medical expertise, sending a team of 165 health workers to Sierra Leone to assist in responding to the Ebola outbreak -- the largest offering from a single country.
Schleifer has run the company with George Yancopoulos, chief scientific officer, since founding Regeneron in 1988. Schleifer is the co-chairman of the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council, one of several groups created by Cuomo in 2011 to encourage economic growth.
Regeneron is best known for its eye injection Eylea, which is used for patients with eye disorders including diabetic macular edema and age-related macular degeneration, both of which can cause blindness. The company is also developing a new type of cholesterol drug in partnership with Sanofi, and expects regulatory approval this year.
New York Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, is also traveling with the governor. Cuomo, a 57-year-old Democrat, hasn’t disclosed the full list of those who will take part in the mission, though has said he’ll be joined by business leaders. Rich Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesman, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.