In one of the most poignant moments from President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address on Tuesday, he launched a new national effort aimed at curing cancer “once and for all,” and turned to Vice President Joe Biden, who lost his 46-year-old son Beau to the disease last year, and said, “I’m putting Joe in charge of Mission Control.”
In a blog post published on Medium following the speech, Biden said “this is personal for me,” adding that “the goal of this initiative is simple — to double the rate of progress. To make a decade worth of advances in five years.” Over the next year, Biden will convene meetings of researchers, doctors, patients, and philanthropists to figure out the best way to effectively boost cancer research funding and treatment, to increase collaboration between experts fighting the disease and to do a better job of compiling information that could lead to a cure to the world's most deadly disease.
For Biden, this moment is a culmination of years of private lobbying and public advocacy. When he formally decided not to seek the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination in October of last year, he said had he run he "would have wanted to have been the president that ended cancer." He also said the nation needed a "moonshot" to cure cancer, a direct reference to the national investment to launch an American space program in the late 1950s, which ultimately proved successful. Biden, in his piece for Medium, doubled down on his ambitious call for a "new generation to defy the bounds of innovation."
"The goal of this initiative — this 'Moonshot' — is to seize this moment. To accelerate our efforts to progress towards a cure, and to unleash new discoveries and breakthroughs for other deadly diseases," wrote Biden. "Several cutting-edge areas of research and care — including cancer immunotherapy, genomics, and combination therapies — could be revolutionary. Innovations in data and technology offer the promise to speed research advances and improve care delivery."
"But the science, data, and research results are trapped in silos, preventing faster progress and greater reach to patients. It’s not just about developing game-changing treatments — it’s about delivering them to those who need them," he added.
Biden has already had some measure of success in this arena. He helped the Obama administration negotiate a $2 billion increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health from Congress, the largest contribution in over a decade. That increase also included an additional $264 million earmarked for the National Cancer Institute, due in part to the vice president's efforts.
“He was calling on people at the very end to get the omnibus (spending bill) passed,” the American Association for Cancer Research policy director Jon Retzlaff told USA Today. “He’s been a tremendous supporter of medical research throughout his tenure as Vice President, as well as during his time in Congress.”
"I know that we can help solidify a genuine global commitment to end cancer as we know it today — and inspire a new generation of scientists to pursue new discoveries and the bounds of human endeavor," Biden wrote on Tuesday.