Biden outlines five-year plan for 'cancer moonshot'

Biden outlines five-year plan for 'cancer moonshot'

Vice President Biden is hoping that escalating the nation’s battle against cancer will help restore the fading “sense of optimism” of recent decades.

Speaking at the White House on Monday, Biden delivered a powerful plea to dozens of the nation’s top cancer doctors, urging them to strive for cures despite “skeptics” and uncertainty.

“For the first time in my career, over the last decade, some of the American people are no longer of the view that we can do anything,” Biden said, hinting at a national spirit of pessimism that has taken root in the 2016 election.

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The vice president said it “disturbs” him that some people believed that U.S.-led breakthroughs — including those in medical research — were something that happened 20 years ago.

“Well, we can do virtually anything,” he said, his voice thundering in the small auditorium. “One of the things I most want to do, once you make the progress… is regenerate this sense of optimism.”

Biden lost his oldest son to cancer last year and has led the White House’s “cancer moonshot” push since January. The task force, which includes top government scientists and private researchers, released a long-awaited report Monday laying out five years’ worth of goals.

He acknowledged the skepticism he faced when President Obama first launched the taskforce, asking for only $1 billion for an effort that most researchers believed would cost far more. But he instead pointed out the nation’s “talent” and “capacity” he believed would make the difference.

“We are on the cusp of just so many enormous breakthroughs,” Biden said. “Your children are going to see more breakthroughs in the next 15 years than we’ve seen in the last 50 years.”

Biden also hinted at the bipartisanship in Congress he believed would get the medical community closer to their goal.

He said GOP leaders had agreed to “significant increases” in research funding over the next decade: “Congress is stepping up. Trust me.”

Biden, who spent nearly 40 years in the Senate before becoming vice president, joked to the oncologists and researchers in the room: “I may not know a lot about science but I know more about Congress than anyone you know.”

With a nod to Republicans in Congress, Biden added that cancer research has become “the last bastion of genuine, true bipartisanship."

Though he only spoke briefly of his son, he was intensely personal, striking a conversational tone as he discussed the thousands of patients he has sat with to talk about their disease.

In one part of his speech, Biden choked up as he recalled stories from cancer-stricken patients who are looking to extend their lives by just a few months.

“A lot of you who are docs, how many times have you had one of your patients say to me, ‘Doctor, can you give me two more weeks? Because I want to walk her down the aisle,’” Biden said, clearing his throat as he appeared to hold back tears.

“‘Can you give me another month so I can see him graduate,’” Biden said. “It’s not about tomorrow. It’s about today.”

Biden’s speech culminated a year’s worth of work by the cancer moonshot taskforce.

The 38-page report released by his signature task force on Monday strikes a similarly positive tone, citing “widespread and unprecedented optimism” across the medical field.

Still, the report acknowledges “significant challenges," including working across the many missions and authorities across all layers of government. It also warns of “funding and resource limitations.”

The ultimate goal, according to the report, is creating a “cancer ecosystem” that is completely integrated to accelerate advances in treatment, care and understanding about the various diseases.  

Biden reiterated his goal of achieving a "decade's worth" of progress against cancer in five years. While he will no longer be serving in the White House, Biden has indicated that he wishes to stay onboard with the initiative in an unofficial role.  

—Updated at 5:23 p.m.