(Photo credit: Photo by © AACR/Todd Buchanan 2016)
“You are the very best we have, and we need you badly,” Vice President Joe Biden passionately pleaded yesterday to the audience at this year’s American Association for Cancer Research’s (AACR) Annual Conference.
As part of his National Cancer Moonshot Initiative, Biden consulted experts around the country on a “listening tour” over the past several months. On April 20, he, along with his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, came to New Orleans to rally the researchers at the end of the five-day event. They also sought advice.
As head of President Obama’s task force, Biden was given control over many federal agencies. However, he concedes that while an almost trillion-dollar spending plan didn’t intimidate him, “this is bigger, and I know so much less.”
As CRI, and now the vice president knows well, cancer and the immune system have an integral interplay. To tap into CRI’s perspective as a leader in the field for more than 60 years, Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, Ph.D., CRI’s CEO and Director of Scientific Affairs, and members of the CRI staff were invited to meet with Biden’s cabinet to discuss how to fast track immunotherapy efforts. After decades of research aimed at harnessing the power of our immune systems, current immunotherapies are capitalizing on their amazing abilities, and clearly represent one of our best shots to “end cancer as we know it.”
Biden discussed sincere belief in collaboration’s ability to overcome our most complex challenges: “I’ve been involved for 36 years in the Senate, in very complicated matters … and I know that there’s a generic benefit in collaboration.”
Obviously, science thrives on collaboration. And while everyone agrees that we must protect appropriate rights and recognition for breakthroughs, some, including Vice President Biden, believe that certain aspects of the current system can be improved. He specifically mentioned data sharing, and noted that a lot of published information sits behind pay walls for months before becoming publicly accessible.
Time and again, VP Biden stressed his determination to help us build a system that “serves the purpose you got into this for in the first place: patients.” He asked the crowd what would “support [our] efforts to save lives earlier than they otherwise would have been,” and offered the researchers encouragement: “We believe in you. We really do. And so do the patients.”
Throughout his eloquent speech, he remained poised, though at moments you could see the pain that this disease had brought to him and his wife. At one point he reflected, “It is personal"—hinting at his son, Beau, who died from brain cancer last year—"it’s personal with so many. But I believe we can do this, because so many breakthroughs are on the horizon in both science and medicine.”
We here at the Cancer Research Institute wholeheartedly agree. We are glad cancer treatments in general and immunotherapies in particular have helped so many patients so far, and know that these recent breakthroughs are only the tip of the iceberg.