No Retirement for Joe Biden: Outgoing VP plans to help patients with cancer moonshot

Cancer Moonshot: Biden’s plan to continue fight for patients

Vice President Joe Biden won’t ride quietly into the sunset.

While much of the country’s attention is focused on President Obama’s valedictory address, Joe Biden’s future plans may be more impactful for patients. Earlier this week, Biden announced his post administration plans to continue his work with the Cancer Moonshot, the Obama administration’s effort to improve treatments and speed up research into preventing, diagnosing, and treating cancer.

Biden says he’ll continue that work to improve “the way the nation conducts cancer research and development and providing care to those with the disease.”

“The culture of medicine, in my humble opinion, literally has to change, to comport with the times,” Biden said at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco. “The culture of cancer research has to change.”

Last summer, Biden showed a keen awareness of the obstacles to innovation.

“The impediment isn’t the lack of the gray matter genius [of cancer researchers] and the ingenuity in terms of new drugs and new treatments, et cetera; it’s all this stuff that gets in the way,” Biden said, referring to regulations and bureaucratic red tape according to CNN. “The only thing I’m good at in government is getting things out of the way.”

The Biden Cancer Initiative won’t be limited to the geographic confines of the United States. Bloomberg’s Natasha Khan reports on Biden’s summer visit to the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre. The $737 million research facility is the cornerstone of Australia’s life-science industry.

Goldberg: Great news for everyone affected by cancer

Biden’s announcement is being heralded by patient advocates.

In a piece published at The Hill, Robert Goldberg, vice president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, identifies the reasons patients should be optimistic about the outgoing vice-president’s contributions to cancer research.

“We need his voice, his passion, and political acumen to not just “reimagine but transform the cancer system of the 20th Century for the 21st Century to match the breakthroughs creating an inflection point in this fight,'” he writes.

Biden’s quick to acknowledge that, as a politician, his focus will be on improving cooperation and bringing groups together. Goldberg believes that coalition-building will begin with smoothing over the hostility between academic institutions and private industry.

“Biden will be in a position to improve the relationship between academic medicine and private industry,” Goldberg says. “At present, the relationship is like that of North Korea and the U.S. but with more food choices.”

As we’ve noted here in The Daily Rise, academia often prioritizes publishable findings. Since medicals journals don’t like marginal improvements, academics tend to ignore the incremental gains that often yield tangible progress for patients.

Cancer Moonshot is no panacea

Patients are right to approach big initiatives with caution.

Medical breakthroughs don’t happen overnight. They take years and billions of dollars. According to a 2016 study by the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development, published in the Journal of Health Economics, the average cost to develop and gain approval for a new treatment is roughly $2.558 billion.

That’s on the low end of estimates. Forbes estimates that the development of new treatments cost at least $4 billion and as much as $11 billion.

By comparison, the Obama administration allocated just a billion dollars to the Cancer Moonshot initiative. In other words, the “Cancer Moonshot” isn’t the be-all, end-all to finding more effective treatments for patients with cancer – a point not lost on the vice-president.

“I almost wish we hadn’t called it the moonshot,” he admitted in San Francisco.

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