publication date: Apr. 7, 2017

Biden pledges to remain a player in oncopolitics, plans to launch cancer initiative

Former Vice President Joe Biden said he plans to launch the Biden Cancer Initiative, which would focus on data sharing, quality of cancer care, patient access, and increasing participation in clinical trials.

Biden announced his intent to remain a player in oncopolitics at the 2017 annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Washington, D.C.

“Starting very soon, we’re going to launch an organization, the Biden Cancer Initiative, with a significant board of people, including several Nobel laureates we work with, with similar goals as the Cancer Moonshot, but changing the way we do business in cancer research and development and providing cancer care, and focusing on breaking down siloes, increasing collaboration,” Biden said in a speech April 3.

“The initiative will focus on improving data standards, and giving patients some mechanism to share their data so they can help many other patients going through the same fight, so researchers can use data to find new patterns and new answers, working with community care organizations help improve access to quality care so outcomes aren’t wholly dictates by the patient’s ZIP code, convening a national conversation with the pharmaceutical companies, insurers, biotech companies and others to ensure patients can actually access the treatments that become available and as are needed.

“I’m calling for greater transparency and access to clinical trials so that researchers on the next promising treatment isn’t stopped in its tracks, and patients have all the options available; continuing to work for cultural change and improvement in our cancer research system, so we can make the best use today’s opportunities and to generate, share, and use data and knowledge from patients and researchers to help patients everywhere in the world.”

An excerpt of Biden’s speech at the 2017 AACR annual meeting follows:

The reason I’m going to stay involved is because, for the first time in 45 years, there’s some real, significant movement and collaboration, which, in my view, is where the solution is most likely to lie to double our rate in the fight against cancer: engaging cancer centers, drug companies, insurance industries, patients, the government.

But I’ll conclude by saying, there is one problem today that didn’t exist when I spoke to you a year ago.

Although a year ago, there was a lot of doubt about my prediction we would have a bipartisan consensus to generate billions of dollars in additional research. But there’s a new problem.

When President [John F.] Kennedy launched the original moonshot to go to the moon, he inspired a generation of young people to enter science and technology. Maybe many of you—not so young anymore like me—are here today.

His famous speech not only led to landing humans on the moon and bringing them back safely within a decade, but he set us on the path to be a world leader, the world leader, in science and technology, education, training, achievement.

We have enjoyed the fruits of that original inspiration and the improvements we have seen in the quality of our life.

Americans over the last 50 years have inspired the world with such achievements in space, medicine, physics, astronomy, telecommunications, computing, and energy, including the fight to combat climate change through massive improvements on how we generate and use electricity and fuel for transportation.

Parenthetically, I come from a city that was a coal city that died when the industry died in the late 1940s. It was difficult, Scranton, Pennsylvania. But, ladies and gentlemen, nothing is going to bring back the coal industry.

We have to accommodate those incredible changes those poor people are going through because it’s not only a job, it’s also a way of life. There is an ecosystem, a human ecosystem that is devastating them, but ladies and gentlemen, we created over 500,000 new jobs in alternative energy, 258,000 jobs just in solar energy. It’s now competitive with coal.

We cannot leave these people behind. But you cannot turn back the clock.

But the message sent out a few weeks ago in the president’s budget is counter to this hope and the progress we’ve made, and, now we’re standing on the cusp of delivering the promise of decades of research to develop new technology, new therapies, on the cusp of fundamentally transforming impact of cancer on our society, on the cusp of saving and extending lives of Americans.

The president of the United States is not only not doubling down on our investment; he’s proposing draconian cuts not only to biomedical research, but also the entire scientific expertise, across the board.

A $5.9 billion cut from the NIH, nearly a 20 percent decrease. A cut of more than 30 percent from EPA when every one of you can tell me that the air we breathe, the water we drink has a profound impact on the very things that you are working on, a 30 percent cut.

And fundamentally changing his mission for providing a safe and healthy environment for Americans, cutting nearly $2 billion in critical scientific infrastructure at the Department of Energy. And the NIH alone, this would set the NIH budget and biomedical research back 15 years. And that’s not hyperbole.

The president of the United States is not only not doubling down on our investment; he’s proposing draconian cuts not only to biomedical research, but also the entire scientific expertise, across the board.

The chance of getting a grant would almost certainly reach a historic low, because grants are funded for multiple years, and NIH is committed to funding the existing grants already in 2018.

The number of new grants for 2018 wouldn’t be cut by 20 percent but, [according to] one reliable estimate, will be cut by up to 90 percent, closing labs, ending careers, delaying scientific breakthroughs.

This is no time to undercut progress, for God’s sake. This is no time to let up. It’s time to double down. It’s time to be sure we deliver on a promise of science and technology to extend and improve lives.

And by the way, I can think of so many other things to cut that money from. Oh, God bless me. Starting with the $1.3 trillion in tax loopholes that aren’t collected every year.

Now, look, that’s the bad news. Here’s the good news, I don’t think there is a chance the American people, or the United States Congress—virtually the same Congress that passed the 21st Century Cures Act just several months ago—will support or pass this budget into law.

But the damage is already being done, because the message is being sent out to the world and the brilliant young folks like a lot of you who are just in graduate school now, making their final decisions what path they’re going to follow, and undergraduate school, deciding what they are going to do.

I don’t think there is a chance the American people, or the United States Congress—virtually the same Congress that passed the 21st Century Cures Act just several months ago—will support or pass this budget into law.

Simply by proposing to end our long tradition of bipartisan support for medical research and other sciences, we could be deterring millions of bright, ambitious youngsters from high schools through graduate school from pursuing a career in science.

And maybe moving some of your talents to other less critical challenges, out of fear that they’ll never get funded to do the kinds of things they care about, out of fear that these kinds of fields are no longer important to the country.

This is tragic. We cannot let it happen.

In his famous speech at Rice University, President Kennedy talked about the challenge of getting to the moon and back, about taking on new challenges and driving for new answers.

He said, “We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people.”

These words inspired countless young Americans to set their sights on new horizons, and we can’t back down from that purpose. It’s not hyperbole; it’s just a fact. We can’t.

Last year, when I laid out the challenges you face in a system that needs improvement, was to let you know that I’m with you, not against you. I’m with you.

I and a lot of other people who still are in office will continue to fight for you, to give you support for the conditions you deserve to help end the scourge of cancer. And I know you will join me in doing your part in supporting this continued culture of sharing and the urgency of now.

The moonshot is no longer an office in the White House. Although I did talk to the vice president and others about it, and I am prepared to do anything I can to work with him, if they pursue these efforts.

But our work and our endeavor, not withstanding the moonshot that’s no longer in the White House, still matters a great deal. We can provide real hope for patients, hope for the progress you made and the hope for the future you know we can achieve. For I, like you, see the day when patients get the right therapy the first time for their cancers.

I see the day when prevention is more effective and where care is personalized with less harmful side effects. I see the day when those of you in this room, when you take your children and grandchildren to the physician to get to school physical, that they will be vaccinated against certain cancers like they can now be vaccinated against HPV.

I see the day when we are able to identify through markers in the blood cancers that are poised to develop into tumors and spread, but haven’t developed yet, giving us the chance to treat them at the most vulnerable stage.

The one thing I can tell you is, there is hope. You can see there is not a single place I go in the country or the world—and this is not hyperbole—that the first or second thing I am asked, whether I am on the street or in a meeting with a head of state: cancer, cancer; “Tell me how it’s going, Mr. Vice President. Mr. Vice President, tell me.”

I gets hundreds of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of letters. One man just wrote to be about losing his son to opioid addiction, who was raising a child who was a child with serious disabilities, and his wife had just died from cancer—it went on for five handwritten pages.

And he ended by saying, “Mr. Vice President, I don’t even know why I’m telling you all of this. I am hoping you, I think maybe you can understand.”

People are desperate, looking for hope. You all know that’s the one thing that’s most needed.

When Kennedy talked about going to the moon, he talked about a commitment, a commitment that he said and I think has become my sort of rallying cry for this.

He said, “We’re making this commitment because, as a nation, we’re unwilling to postpone this crazy adventure.”

In our fight against cancer, we have to be unwilling to postpone, even for a second, to do all we can for as long as it takes, because you know, with the incredible collective talent you possess, we can fundamentally change the prospects, and promise of life for tens of millions of people all around the world.

I can think of nothing more noble to be engaged in, than what all of you are doing, and I’m not being solicitous. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. You’re an incredible, incredible national and international resource.

So, let’s keep it going, folks. This is no time to stop the momentum.

Thank you all so very much.

Copyright (c) 2017 The Cancer Letter Inc.