Biden plans to create moonshot nonprofit, may focus on drug prices

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This article is part of The Cancer Letter's To The Moon series.

After leaving the White House, Vice President Joe Biden plans to consolidate his work on the Cancer Moonshot into an independent, nonprofit organization, while juggling non-cancer programs at two universities.

Biden aims to continue work on the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative through a new nonprofit that will not be connected to any cancer center or university, according to sources familiar with Biden’s post-administration goals.

The vice president appears to be finalizing plans for creating a foreign policy institute at the University of Pennsylvania and a domestic policy institute at the University of Delaware—both within driving distance of his home in The First State.

After The Cancer Letter first reported Biden’s plans Dec. 22, the vice president said he would create “The Biden Trust, to continue the cancer work.” He seems to have revealed these details inadvertently, in a conversation picked up on a C-SPAN hot microphone Jan. 3.

“It’s not so much about raising money or philanthropy—though there will be some of that—but it’s more about keeping these guys cooperating and changing the culture,” Biden said to a woman who came up to greet him after a ceremonial swearing in of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). “I’m going to be based out of Penn for foreign policy.

“I’m deliberately not associating with any one medical center.”

Biden has said repeatedly that he intends to be involved in cancer advocacy for years to come.

“I’m going to begin a national conversation and get Congress and advocacy groups in to make sure these treatments are accessible for everyone, including these vulnerable underserved populations, and that we have a more rational way of paying for them while promoting innovation,” Biden said to The Washington Post.

In 2016, Biden emerged as the principal convener in oncology. As vice president, he aggressively pushed for what he called “breaking down siloes” by removing barriers that prevent researchers and institutions from sharing data (The Cancer Letter, June 3). In one instance, the moonshot announced plans to work with the Association of American Cancer Institutes to match cancer centers with private investment and philanthropy (The Cancer Letter, Sept. 6).

At the moment, the White House is transferring moonshot projects to federal agencies, insiders say.

President-Elect Donald Trump hasn’t publicly discussed the moonshot, which was renamed Beau Biden Cancer Moonshot in the bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act (The Cancer Letter, Dec. 9).

White House and UPenn officials declined to comment.

In addition to continuing his work on the moonshot, Biden said he will “bring down drug prices” in an interview with Time magazine in December.

“The researchers, the insurers, all of the major cancer centers … want me to pursue it,” Biden said to The Washington Post. “They all realize they have a problem.”

The moonshot nonprofit will be based in either Wilmington, Del., or Washington, he said. According to the Post, the organization is being referred to as the Biden Cancer Initiative inside the White House, but the final name could be different. More details are expected in early February.

President Barack Obama announced the moonshot at his 2016 State of the Union address in memory of Beau Biden, 46, who died from brain cancer in May 2015. He was treated at MD Anderson Cancer Center.

In November, the Houston hospital created the Beau Biden Chair for Brain Cancer Research.

It’s unclear when the vice president will create the moonshot institute or begin his work at UPenn and UD. It is not publicly known who will be joining Biden’s staff in these endeavors, and whether Greg Simon, the executive director of the Cancer Moonshot, will be participating in these programs.

As part of the Cures Act, the moonshot received $300 million in the second fiscal 2017 continuing resolution. The Cures Act authorizes $4.3 billion for NIH over the next decade, of which $1.8 billion is slated for NCI over seven years for cancer research.

FDA’s Oncology Center of Excellence was slated to receive $75 million in Obama’s FY 2017 budget proposal (The Cancer Letter, July 1). The Cures Act authorizes the creation of intercenter institutes at the agency.

With the first year of funding secure, NCI is expected to begin implementing the Blue Ribbon Panel’s 10 scientific recommendations for the moonshot (The Cancer Letter, Sept. 9).

The Cancer Letter’s coverage of the moonshot is posted here.


Matthew Bin Han Ong
Senior Editor