Biden Launches Cancer ‘Moonshot’ in Philly


Cancer is being attacked like it’s never been attacked before — and from our very own Vice President Joe Biden.

What it’s called: “Moonshot.”
What it is: A comprehensive initiative on several fronts aimed at attacking cancer like it’s never been attacked before.
Who is spearheading the assault: none other than the vice president of the United States. Of course, Joe Biden is all too familiar to the disease, having lost several members of his family to it, including his son, Beau, last year.
Biden sat before 10 distinguished doctors in a 75-minute panel discussion Jan. 15 at the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine and listened to their opinions on the best way to combat the disease. It was a frank discussion, where the vice president admitted his ignorance on certain topics, but at the same time wanted the men and women in the room to know more can be done on their part to make this work, particularly when it comes to sharing knowledge and pooling resources with outsiders.
The campaign followed by two days a call by President Obama in his last State of the Union Address to eradiate cancer.
“I hope my medical friends are not offended,” Biden told the group, including Penn president Amy Gutmann and Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, as well as a select cadre of community leaders. “They used to say there’s three kinds of politics in America — church politics, union politics and regular politics. But there’s also cancer politics. The difference is that it’s not even intentional. There’s a desire to be collaborative.”
The end result of cancer politics, according to Biden, is that medical information doesn’t get shared and valuable data is often hoarded, which makes each breakthrough that much more difficult. If hospitals wouldn’t be so proprietary with their advancements, and pharmaceutical companies would better cooperate with each other — a tall order, considering the financial ramifications of discovering the next weapon in the battle — the public would be better served.
That’s the goal behind the “moonshot,” a moniker referencing President John F. Kennedy’s call in 1962 to land a man on the moon, which occurred just seven short years later. Whatever strides are made in the foreseeable future, Biden knows it will take much longer than that to defeat cancer.
It will also take additional funding. Biden was instrumental in getting Congress to go along with a budget package that increased the NIH’s cancer funding by $260 million this year. After returning from this week’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland — where he’s expected to meet with global cancer experts — he’ll chair meetings with Cabinet secretaries in an attempt to boost federal funding for research and treatment.
He emphasized he will be there every step of the way. “When I decided not to run for president, I made it clear I’m devoted to finding a way to make this happen,” said Biden, who arrived nearly 90 minutes late and immediately toured the Abramson facility before sitting down with the panel in a secluded area of the center. “My hope is, I can be a catalyst to sort of get everybody on the same page.
“We can do so much. My commitment is not just for the next 12 months I’m in office.”
Biden listened to various experts in the field explain some of the intricacies in genome therapy and immunotherapy, treatment methods that have had degrees of success at Abramson and other centers. He heard them detail the complexities involved — a necessity, given that each form of cancer is different and must be treated accordingly.
“From what I understand, we don’t know why it works when it works,” said Biden. “There are multiple cancer genes within a cancer cell, so it’s naïve to think you can treat cancer with one approach. But there’s a lot of data out there and it’s not accessible to everybody. If you live in Philadelphia, you may have access to this great research facility. If you live in 75 percent of this country, you may not have that access.
“We have to make sure this kind of access is made available to every child in America. We have to be all-inclusive. The more data we have, the faster we can get to a place where we can make this moonshot.”
Biden called upon the doctors at Abramson — surgeons, oncologists and other specialists — to do their part, saying he was “awed by some of what you’re doing and continue to do. … With your help, we could turn this into a historic moment.”
The support was mutual. “We’re on board your flight,” replied Gutmann. “You understand all the pieces to be both a spokesperson and an advocate. I think moonshot is real — we just need to put all the pieces together and put them in the right place. Everyone’s dedicated to making it happen.”
Biden concluded by expressing his confidence in America. “I’ve never been more optimistic in my life for this country,” he enthused. “We’re in so much a better position than any nation in the world.
“There are enormous possibilities.”
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