AUSTIN — The fight against cancer knows no party lines.
“The only bipartisan thing left in America is the fight against cancer,” former vice president Joe Biden said during a keynote speech at the annual SXSW festival.
In a rallying cry to convince the “most innovative minds in the world” to join him in his efforts, Biden conveyed a message of hope on Sunday afternoon in Austin, Texas.
“Your generation can be the first generation on earth that goes through life with a completely different understanding of cancer as preventable — a controllable disease, rather than a death sentence,” he said.
In February, Joe and Jill Biden launched the Biden Foundation, which focuses on cancer research, as well as issues like violence against women and equality.
But Biden has been working on his “Cancer Moonshot” effort for more than a year. He shared how after deciding not to run for president, he realized he had one regret.
“I would have loved to be the president the presided over the end of cancer as we know it,” said Biden, whose son Beau died of brain cancer in 2015 at age 46.
President Obama gave Biden a long leash to help accelerate cancer research. Biden assembled a task force made up of the heads of relevant government agencies to get them working together. New collaborations have formed, like NASA and the National Cancer Institute, which have partnered to study the biological effects of particle beam radiotherapy in fighting cancer.
Biden stressed the importance of collaboration and data sharing, which is already starting to make progress. In June, the National Institutes of Health launched the Genomic Data Commons for sharing free genomic and clinical data between cancer researchers. Biden said the database has been accessed 80 million times by researchers around the world. “There’s hope,” he said.
Biden praised tech’s efforts, sharing how he received an unexpected call from Amazon, which offered free cloud storage space.
But Biden also intended to light a fire in the tech crowd.
“You might think that at a time when Facebook has an algorithm to tell if someone is exhibiting potentially suicidal tendencies, that our medical centers would be able to find and test people at risk for certain cancers. But they can’t. Why?”
In December, Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act, a portion of which authorized $1.8 billion to cancer research over the next seven years, in honor of Beau.
Biden reminded people that the bulk of funding for research comes from taxpayers.
“Your government — that many of you don’t like — is the vehicle for how this gets funded by and large,” he said.
Biden stressed the need for collaboration across borders as well, calling cancer “dreaded” throughout the world. He pledged to do everything in his power to work with the new administration to fight it.
Biden’s focus is reminiscent of President Nixon’s 1971 War on Cancer. Cancer remains the second leading cause of death today.
On an earlier panel Sunday, Greg Simon, director of the Biden Cancer Initiative, said, “We’re not trying to start another war on cancer, we’re trying to finish that one.”
He added that cancer research largely hasn’t changed since then. “[It’s] not working,” he said, adding that medical information largely “lives and dies where it’s created.”
“If we change that, we’ll change cancer,” he said.
Biden referenced President John F. Kennedy’s famous space race speech, where he called efforts to the moon something that “we are unwilling to postpone.”
“I am unwilling to postpone for one day longer the things we can do now to extend people’s lives and so should you be,” said Biden. “We can make enormous, enormous, enormous progress.’