A redesign of the cancer research enterprise is necessary to accelerate advances and achieve 10 years’ worth of progress in 5 years, Vice President Joe Biden said today during the plenary session of the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting.
President Barack Obama announced the launch of a national moonshot initiative to cure cancer during his State of the Union address in January. Biden — whose son, Beau, died of brain cancer last summer — is leading the effort.
“It is personal, and it is personal for so many,” Biden said. “But I believe we can [cure cancer] because there are so many breakthroughs in science and medicine that are just on the horizon. I believe we can make [these breakthroughs] real if we can make an absolute national commitment to end cancer as we know it.”
Since the announcement of the moonshot initiative, Biden has traveled around the world to meet cancer experts and survivors, philanthropists, government leaders and organizers of cancer coalitions to listen to their needs.
“My job and my commitment is to bring together human, financial and knowledge resources from around the world to seize this moment and make a quantum leap in progress,” Biden said. “I realized the first thing I had to do was coordinate the efforts of the federal government with those of the private sector. I made a commitment that, as I gain this information and knowledge, I will eliminate the barriers that get in your way — in the way of science, research and development.”
During his remarks this afternoon, Biden called on cancer researchers and clinicians to help him achieve this goal by sharing what can best be done to incentivize cancer research. He highlighted the $2 billion federal budget increase for the NIH last year and said the proposed 2017 budget includes $800 million for cancer research that will be spread across several agencies.
“If we do this well, we will be able to continue — for the foreseeable future — to fund a minimum of that amount of money every year,” Biden said. “But, as you all know, it takes more than money. As I have traveled around the country and the globe, I was importuned by leaders in the field saying we have to realign research incentives.”
Biden acknowledged the lengthy grant writing process, and how applying for grants — and then waiting for the results — can take away from research and slow progress.
“I’ve come to understand just how difficult it is to qualify for a grant,” Biden said. “The more outside the box the idea — which may be the answer, for some cancers — the less likely you are to get funded. It seems to me we slow down our best young minds by making them spend years in the lab before they can get their own research grants.”
Sharing data is another way that may further streamline the incentive process, Biden said.
For instance, access to trial data and taking advantage of supercomputing technologies may help support additional research and accelerate the search for answers to clinical questions. Biden commended the efforts of initiatives such as AACR’s Project GENIE, ASCO’s CancerLinQ database, the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, and the Oncology Research Information Exchange Network (ORIEN) collaboration of several cancer centers.
However, these groups need to work together, Biden said.
“Quite frankly, when I met with all the heads of each of these various groups, it raises a question for me: Why is all of this being done separately?” he said. “Why is so much money being spent, when if it’s aggregated, the answers will come more quickly?”
Making publications more readily available is another way to collaborate and expedite progress, Biden said. He acknowledged that many cancer researchers are limited by pay-wall access to journals in which key study results are published.
“Right now, you work for years to come up with a significant breakthrough, and if you do, you get to publish a paper in one of the top journals,” Biden said. “For anyone to get access to that publication, they have to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars a year for that one journal. And here’s the kicker: That journal owns the data for a year.”
Further, the work of verification should be rewarded, Biden said. Verification is “the core of science,” and trial findings must be replicated to have an impact, he said. However, few researchers receive grants to verify studies.
Biden promised that he would do everything in his power so that the federal government adds value to help realign research incentives where needed.
“You have to tell me how, as many of you already have,” Biden said. “We are at your service ... so you can serve your patients. I believe together we can adjust to a new system that better supports your efforts and saves lives. I really do believe we’re on the cusp of breakthroughs that can save lives and benefit humanity, but we have to work together.” – by Alexandra Todak