- Former Vice President Joe Biden on Monday stressed the progress of the Cancer Moonshot, an initiative aimed at revving up development of treatments for the broad disease class, but also the long road of work that remains.
- During a presentation at the American Association for Cancer Research conference in Washington, D.C., Biden touted the improved collaboration between lawmakers, government departments and scientists in making cancer research and funding more accessible.
- "The moonshot was about fundamentally doing two things—injecting the urgency of now into this fight to double the rate of progress—to do in five years what would ordinarily take 10," Biden said. "And secondly, to change the culture; coming up with a new strategy for this fight, not the last fight."
Biden has pushed for the Cancer Moonshot since the fall of 2015, just several months after his son Beau died at age 46 due to brain cancer. The initiative became law in December when then-president Barack Obama approved the 21st Century Cures Act, a move that had widespread and bipartisan support across the House of Representatives and Senate.
The Cancer Moonshot grants $1.8 billion in funding over seven years for research into the disease. Estimates from the National Cancer Institute hold that, in the U.S., nearly 600,000 people died from cancer in 2016 and 1.7 million new cases of the disease were diagnosed.
The former Vice President underscored the successes the initiative has had so far — namely the roughly 80 collaborations that have formed in its wake. One example was a partnership between the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Energy focused on using big data from the latter to help improve the health of U.S. veterans.
Another was the development of the National Cancer Institute's Genomic Data Commons, an aggregate of cancer patient data that Biden said had been accessed roughly 80 million times since June. What's more, Amazon is offering cloud support to help store the data accumulated by the project.
He cautioned the audience not to rest on those achievements, however, but to double down in the fight against cancer. Speaking to hundreds of researchers, he emphasized continuing to work together moving forward. "I realize that when you're all in medical school ... there's no single standard for taking and storing biopsies. You all have got to get together here," Biden said.
The presentation came amid a backdrop of looming cuts to the National Institutes of Health and other healthcare-focused government agencies. President Donald Trump's proposed 2018 fiscal budget would decrease the funding to the Department of Health and Human Services to $69 billion, an 18% reduction that would also slash more than $5 billion out of NIH funding.
While Biden was optimistic Congress wouldn't pass the budget, "the damage is already being done — it's the message being sent out to the world and the brilliant young folks who are just like you," he said. "Simply by proposing we end our long tradition of bipartisan support for medical research and other sciences, we could be deterring millions of bright, ambitious, young students from high school through graduate school from pursuing a career in science."