Biden pushes for progress at cancer summit

September 21, 2018

By Laurie McGinley, Washington Post

When Joe Biden left the White House almost two years ago, a leading medical expert asked him to continue the “cancer moonshot” work he started for the Obama administration after his son Beau died of a brain tumor.

“Why me?” the former vice president asked.

“Because you can convene and shame,” the expert replied.

Indeed, as head of the moonshot initiative, he frequently lambasted researchers for not sharing their data, saying they were creating hurdles to progress.

On Friday, Biden plans to do some major convening — but not much shaming, he says — at a day-long cancer summit in Washington. More than 450 community meetings will take place across the country at the same time.

The conference is the first by the nonprofit Biden Cancer Initiative, founded last year by Biden and his wife, Jill Biden. Both will speak at the meeting, as will researchers, patients and advocates.


The fight against cancer, he said, “has become the mission of my life and my wife’s life.”

Beau Biden, an Iraq War veteran who served as the attorney general of Delaware, died in 2015 of a malignant brain tumor. He was 46. Eight months later, President Barack Obama named the vice president to head an effort to accelerate progress against the disease.

During that “moonshot,” Biden highlighted many of the areas that his cancer initiative now focuses on: the importance of researchers’ sharing data and setting common data standards, the prevention and early detection of cancer, improving clinical trials, helping patients navigate the system and taming the cost of care.

“We should be able to say that affordability is getting better, but it’s getting worse,” he said.

Biden says collaboration is on the rise among researchers but sees myriad other challenges, such as redesigning trials to make them faster and more effective, and figuring out how to get low-income parents to cancer treatment. “A lot of single moms can’t go for chemotherapy,” he said. “They have no one to babysit.”

As part of the conference, more than 50 companies will announce steps designed to improve the cancer-care system and to help patients deal with the disease. For example, Airbnb said it will allow hosts to use a tool called Open Homes to offer free housing for people traveling to a city to get medical treatment.