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AACR Highlights: Vice President Joe Biden address AACR

By BCRF | April 25, 2016

Vice President Biden attends meeting pledging government support for cancer research

The AACR annual meetings typically conclude with a final plenary session focused on highlights from the meeting and visions for the future in cancer research. This year’s final plenary session in New Orleans was augmented by a very special presentation from Vice President Biden. Mr. Biden addressed the more than 4000 AACR meeting attendees in his new role in the implementation of the recently announced National Cancer Institute Moon Shot Initiative. The initiative, announced by President Obama in his state of the union address this year, is intended to reassess government resources and support for cancer research in order to accelerate progress towards better treatments and prevention strategies.

The Vice President began his talk with a humble thank you to the scientists, clinicians and students in the audience for their commitment and fortitude in pursuing their arduous paths in research, in spite of many obstacles, not the least of which have resulted from reductions in funding for biomedical research in the US. He acknowledged his family’s shared experience with many of the advocates in the room, who became experts in cancer out of necessity to care and advocate for loved ones or others living with and beyond a cancer diagnosis.  

He acknowledged how the pace of research has brought us to a “cusp of an inflexion point in the fight against cancer with many breakthroughs on the horizon, “and cited the emergence of collaborative, interdisciplinary research and team science that has provided a renewed sense of hope– as well as expectation–for the future. As examples, the Vice President pointed to advances in immunotherapy that suggest it could become a critical part of  an anti-cancer strategy and the potential of big data to provide enormous insight into the influences of genetics, family history, environmental and behavioral exposures on cancer risk and treatment outcomes.

Mr. Biden stated a commitment to “seize the moment, to make a quantum leap and to achieve a decade’s worth of progress in five years.” He pledged to coordinate government efforts with the private sector to eliminate barriers that impede progress in science, research and development. To support this claim, he cited the Obama administration’s 2016 budget increase of $2 billion to the National Institutes of Health –the largest increase in a decade, and noted that an additional $800 million is planned in 2017 to support research in early detection technology, vaccine development, cancer-immunotherapy and combination therapies, tumor genomic analyses and data sharing.

While he acknowledged that more money is needed, Mr. Biden stressed that other things need to be done and petitioned the audience for advice on how to realign research incentives. He highlighted several suggestions he gathered from a variety of sources including doctors and scientists, patients and advocacy groups, and non-profit funders of cancer research, including:  

Breaking down the barriers to sharing data. Mr. Biden referred to vast amounts of data either stored in private databases or published in journals that require costly subscriptions that are inaccessible to the research community or the tax-paying public. He stressed the need for increased sharing of data, open access to publications and incentives to validate the findings in published research in order to advance discoveries from the laboratory to the clinic.

Rethinking how we conduct clinical trials and making patient advocates a part of the process from planning to execution and outcomes reporting. Patient advocates, Mr. Biden said, can be instrumental in improving recruitment to clinical trials, especially in underserved and minority populations that are underrepresented in clinical trials data.

Freeing up researchers to do research. Mr. Biden acknowledged the bureaucracy of the federal grants process, the aversion to fund high risk-high reward research and the burden on researchers to spend valuable time away from research to write grants and wait months to know if the grant is approved or not.

Making research relevant to patients, rather than another notch towards faculty tenure. The Vice President alluded to academic pressures to achieve a quota of publications that prevent researchers from pursuing the kinds of research that will have real impact on patient lives.

The Vice President lauded the research community for the amazing progress that has been made in cancer research under the current system, but stressed that in order to meet the goals of the Moon Shot Initiative – to achieve a decade’s worth of progress in cancer prevention and treatment in half the time–the system must be revamped. In closing, he reiterated his and President Obama’s commitment to realigning the nation’s resources to accelerate cancer research, to change cancer as we know it and to preserve and extend every person’s quality of life after a cancer diagnosis.  

BCRF is a community of over 240 scientists and clinicians, who every year in their progress reports, tell us how they could not pursue the out-of-the-box questions without their BCRF support. In many ways, BCRF launched its Moon Shot over 20 years ago with the vision of our founders Evelyn Lauder and Dr. Larry Norton who believed that removing the barriers to research is the only way to end breast cancer.

You can view the Vice President’s talk here or read the full transcript.