Biden to Lead National Effort to Cure Cancer

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By Jeannie Baumann

Jan. 13 — President Barack Obama unveiled a national initiative to end cancer as part of his final State of the Union address Jan. 12.

“Last year, Vice President Biden said that with a new moonshot, America can cure cancer,” Obama said. “I’m putting Joe in charge of Mission Control. For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the family we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.”

Vice President Joe Biden wrote in a Jan. 12 statement that the goal of the initiative is to double the rate of progress by making a decade's worth of advances in five years. He said he plans to increase both public and private resources and also wants to bring together all the different stakeholders to improve collaboration and share information to end cancer “as we know it.”

“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 said on the online publishing forum Medium.com.

Over the next year, Biden said he plans to lead an effort that includes governments, private industry, researchers, physicians, patients and philanthropies. He noted that advances in genomics and combination therapies, as well as data and technology, have the potential to be revolutionary for cancer research. He also highlighted innovations in data and technology that can improve health-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,” Biden said.

Initiative's Aims

As part of the plan, Biden said, the government will work on increasing funding, targeted incentives and increased private-sector coordination to support research and enable progress. The initiative aims to:

• encourage leading cancer centers to reach unprecedented levels of cooperation,

• mobilize data and technology innovations to revolutionize how medical and research data are shared to reach new breakthroughs,

• help the oncology community improve communication with doctors and improve equitable access to patient care and

• ensure that the patient community is an active participant in patient care.

 

Biden plans to meet with physicians and researchers Jan. 15 at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine and also will meet with international research experts the week of Jan. 18 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Later in January, the vice president said he will convene an initial meeting with Cabinet secretaries and heads of all relevant agencies to discuss ways to improve federal investment and support of cancer research and treatment.

Encouraging Coverage

Harold E. Varmus, a Nobel Prize-winning cancer researcher at Weill Cornell Medical College who stepped down last March as head of the National Cancer Institute in the National Institutes of Health, said the White House can take both inspirational and administrative steps to accelerate progress. Those measures could include simply calling attention to recent advances in cancer research and encouraging Medicare, Medicaid and private insurers to cover genetic testing both in clinical trials and clinical care, he told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 13.

“That would dramatically accelerate the use of those things because doctors and hospitals can’t afford to do those things unless they get reimbursed,” he said.

Varmus, who also served as NIH director under the Clinton administration, said Biden is approaching the initiative in a good way. “The unfortunate thing about the word moonshot is that people think it’s got some kind of simple outcome by curing all cancers. That’s not what I hear. What I hear is making more rapid progress so that cancer becomes a disease that’s no longer the cause of so many deaths in our country or throughout the world.”

Biden Committed Beyond Office

Jon Retzlaff, managing director of science policy and government affairs at the American Association for Cancer Research, told Bloomberg BNA “there's no question” the vice president's office will seek input from stakeholders as the plan is developed. Biden met with AACR leaders on Jan. 8, just days before the initiative was announced.

“One of the things that probably excites us most is that Vice President Biden has given us his commitment that this is not something he’s doing [only] in his last year as vice president,” Retzlaff told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 13. “They realize there is one year so there is a sense of urgency, there's no question. But they also understand that fighting cancer is not a one-year thing. It’s decades and more.”

Advances in cancer research will require long-term, robust funding streams to restore a 22 percent decline in purchasing power over the past 12 years, Retzlaff said. The AACR supports a growth rate of 5 percent above the biomedical inflation rate, which is projected to be 2.4 percent in fiscal year 2016. “That means we are probably asking for 7 [percent] to 7.5 percent ideally every year to eternity,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeannie Baumann in Washington at jbaumann@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Janey Cohen at jcohen@bna.com

Biden's statement is available at http://src.bna.com/b0w.

President Obama's State of the Union address is at http://1.usa.gov/1P05B5F