Infusing a Sense of Urgency in Cancer Care: The Biden Cancer Initiative

June 27, 2017

On Monday, June 26, 2017, the Biden Foundation announced the launch of the Biden Cancer Initiative, their new venture to continue the fight to make progress in cancer prevention, detection, treatment, and care.

On Monday, June 26, 2017, the Biden Foundation announced the launch of the Biden Cancer Initiative, their new venture to continue the fight to make progress in cancer prevention, detection, treatment, and care.

At the event, which was hosted at the Alexandria Center for Life Science in New York, former vice president Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, PhD, participated on a panel that included some of the initiative's board of directors:

  • David Agus, MD, professor of Medicine and Engineering, University of Southern California (USC); founding director and CEO, Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine of USC
  • Carol Brown, MD, director, Office of Diversity Programs in Clinical Care, Research, and Training, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
  • Jimmy “Taboo” Gomez, musician; member of Black Eyed Peas; cancer survivor
  • Elizabeth Jaffee, MD, deputy director, Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, Johns Hopkins University
  • Greg Simon, JD, president, Biden Cancer Initiative

“Cancer is personal for everyone and it is personal for me and for Joe,” said the former second lady. “This initiative is about hope, but it’s also about action and so we are trying to make the seemingly impossible, possible,” she said.

Reiterating that the goal of the foundation is not to reinvent the wheel—and acknowledging that there exist several cancer organizations that are doing “incredible work” in the field—Biden said that he wanted to take advantage of being able to convene stakeholders. He said that with the experiences he gained after meeting with world leaders and scientists around the world, “I came back with the notion that 2 things were needed that went beyond philanthropy and beyond science and medicine, which was an incredible sense of urgency was needed.” He also added that there was a need to change the culture of how we are currently fighting cancer. Despite all the progress in the field and the technological advances that are at scientists’ disposal, “we are at an inflection point,” Biden said.

He referred to how the Cancer Moonshot was able to make breakthroughs with culture changes. “Everything we put in place for the Moonshot is still in place, but there’s no mission control right now,” Biden said. The Biden Cancer Initiative will help inject a sense of urgency into cancer research and healthcare systems and reimagine how the government, academia, non-profits, and the private sector can better organize their resources and systems to collaborate to take on cancer, with the patient as the focus.

“To continue to do what Jill and I are capable of doing is to maintain the sense of urgency as well as continue to change the culture by breaking down silos and sharing data and information,” Biden added. The initiative has gone global, he said, with a memorandum of understanding signed with several countries across the world.

“We have met with several cancer organizations and several of them have even helped our family,” said Dr Biden. “What makes ours different is the sense of urgency.” Sharing the family’s experience when Beau Biden, the family’s oldest son, was diagnosed with advanced glioblastoma, she explained that they never gave up hope, until the very last day, that things would turn around.

Gomez, a cancer survivor himself, said he is honored to be a part of the effort following his personal experience being diagnosed with cancer, which he described as being a “reality check that was bigger than my career and bigger than entertainment.” He said that he would like to use his influence among the Latino and Native American communities as well as the younger generation, especially around prevention.

Agus acknowledged the barriers the initiative may face. Clinical trials in healthcare take a lot of time to develop and conduct, he said, and there are several regulatory obstacles to face. “The Bidens collectively know the steps needed….they know the people, they can pull the strings. It’s my privilege to be able to give up a part of what I am doing and dedicate my time to this initiative,” Agus added.

Explaining the disconnect between progress within basic research and healthcare innovation, Jaffee said, “We want innovation, we want people to be entrepreneurs, but we also need people to collaborate." With the initiative, “we will be moving things forward for the patients, keeping the patient at the center of things,” she added.