CHICAGO — Increased collaboration and a willingness to see beyond the expected will be critical to the success of the national cancer moonshot initiative, Vice President Joe Biden told ASCO Annual Meeting attendees this afternoon.
“No single oncologist or cancer researcher can find the answer on his or her own,” Biden said. “The good news is, today, oncologists and cancer researchers realize they can’t do it alone, either.”
Biden — embracing this year’s ASCO theme, “Collective Wisdom: The future of patient-centered care and research” — suggested the fight against cancer has reached an inflection point that requires the contributions from diverse fields such as virology, immunology, proteomics and genomics, all of which offer profound promise that did not exist 5 years ago, Biden said.
“What is required today extends beyond any individual or any individual discipline, and beyond medicine itself,” Biden said. “We have to use every weapon at our disposal if we are going to achieve our goal of helping patients even more than you’re already helping them today. ... That requires a change of mindset. It requires a lot more openness — open data, open collaboration and, above all, open minds.”
President Barack Obama announced the launch of the national cancer moonshot initiative during his State of the Union address in January. Biden — whose son, Beau, died of brain cancer last summer — is leading the effort.
The moonshot is intended to double the rate of progress of cancer research through four key missions: realigning the incentives of research systems to promote progress in preventing and treating cancer; creating a new paradigm for generating, sharing and integrating data; accelerating the pace at which diagnostic and therapeutic advances are brought to patients and the world; and identifying unnecessary regulatory barriers at the federal level that stand in the way of allowing the oncology community to improve cancer care.
Biden — who called the moonshot “the only bipartisan thing left in America” — has spent the past few months traveling the world to meet with oncologists, researchers, government leaders, philanthropists and representatives of cancer coalitions to listen to their needs.
His appearance at ASCO was the second time this spring he promoted the national cancer moonshot as a major oncology conference. In April, he spoke during the plenary session at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting in New Orleans.
“[At AACR], there appeared to be a consensus relative to the need to first realign incentives to reward team science by bringing together the expertise needed to answer big questions without being limited by jealousies between disciplines, laboratories and institutions,” Biden said. “[There also was consensus to] promote research that delivers results for patients; to help our researchers spend more productive time in the lab and less time writing grant proposals; to share data behind breakthroughs so the field as a whole could move forward faster and avoid unnecessary redundancy; and to measure progress in patient outcomes, not just the number of publications.”
Biden issued several challenges to ASCO attendees.
One was directed at those involved with big-data initiatives such as the Oncology Research Information Exchange Network (ORIEN), Project GENIE and CancerLinQ.
“You’re not going to like this, but imagine if you all worked together,” he said. “You’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars. Imagine if it was coordinated.”
He also called for increased recognition of the need for more team science, which he described as the ability of oncologists to work with virologists, immunologists, surgeons, imaging and radiology specialists, and other experts.
“My question for you is how to break down barriers that hinder collaboration,” he said. “You don’t intend not to collaborate. You don’t intend to put up barriers, but they are there. We need teams of scientists and teams of organizations. I urge you to keep working closer together to translate scientific discovery into meaningful treatments for patients.”
Biden encouraged ASCO attendees to participate in the inaugural National Cancer Moonshot Summit on June 29. Events will be held simultaneously in Washington and at more than 75 sites around the country to allow researchers, health care professionals, advocates, patients and others to discuss the effort to accelerate progress in cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care.
“I know of no cadre of people in the world more desperately in need of hope than the 16 million people with cancer,” Biden said. “There has never been a major undertaking I’ve been assigned where I haven’t known at least as much or more than the people advising me — except this one. That’s why I need you. ... This is a moment we have to seize.”
Julie M. Vose, MD, MBA, FASCO, president of ASCO, introduced Biden to the crowd.
“[He] has renewed energy into our efforts to accelerate cancer research, enhance cancer prevention and ensure delivery of the highest quality of cancer care,” Vose said.
Vose called Biden “a steadfast supporter” of cancer research since his days in the Senate. His efforts with the moonshot initiative have re-energized the commitment to ending cancer and transformed the nation’s dialogue about how to achieve this goal, she said.
“We are thankful for his determination to break down data-sharing barriers and his support of tools to expand knowledge about cancer care,” Vose said. “We are so grateful for [his] commitment, energy and leadership. We stand ready to help [him] in whatever way we can.” – by Mark Leiser