Biden rallies participants to double cancer progress in 'moonshot' kick-off

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Vice President Joe Biden led a major step toward completing his “moonshot” task of curing cancer June 29, when he spoke at the first Cancer Moonshot Summit.

President Obama surprised his friend and second-in-command with the big assignment during his final State of the Union speech in February. Biden’s son Beau, former Delaware attorney general, died of brain cancer last year.

“Cancer touches everyone in some way. … Almost every one of us in here has lost someone relatively close to us,” he said. “We’re all here because we can do something about it.”

Biden met with 350 private and government researchers, oncologists and patients and their families at Howard University to discuss ways to remove barriers to research and improve communications between different members of the research community.

The Obama administration put aside $195 million for the program in 2016, with a proposed total of $1 billion spent through the National Institutes of Health with the goal to complete a decade’s worth of cancer advancements in only five years.

Biden marveled at the difficulties researchers face when trying to collaborate with each other. The administration has established a new website, trials.cancer.gov, to facilitate easier communication among them.

The vice president didn’t hesitate to show his frustration with the current culture of cancer research, which he said can be inefficient, in an effort to motivate participants. He cited an example of NIH researchers taking longer than a year to report their findings, while other government scientists share new findings almost immediately.

“Doc, I’m going to find out if that’s true, and if it’s true, I’m going to cut funding. That’s a promise,” he said.  

He also pointed to new relationships between existing government agencies, meant to combine their individual power and point it toward this new cancer goal. According to CNN, the Department of Energy, the National Cancer Institute and the Department of Veterans affairs will team up to combine cancer data with some of the nation’s strongest computing power. The FDA has plans to speed up cancer drug trials.  

And Biden blasted “astronomical” cancer drug costs, saying he wants to find a way to keep costs low for patients.

After the conference was over, the vice president re-tweeted groups in smaller meetings explaining how they’d continue their efforts beyond the summit, using the hashtag #CanServe.

The event was mirrored by more than 270 others throughout the country the same day, also focusing on ways to better understand and treat cancer, with the ultimate goal to eradicate the disease.