Biden gives voice to cancer fight in Boston visit

Joe Biden
FILE - In this July 16, 2015 file photo, Vice President Joe Biden speaks at Generation Progress's 10th Annual Make Progress National Summit in Washington. Biden will be among Stephen Colbert's first guests on "The Late Show." CBS announced Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015, that Biden will join previously announced guests Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and country singer Toby Keith on Sept. 10. (AP Photo/Molly Riley, File)

BOSTON (State House News Service) – With just three months until he and President Barack Obama vacate the White House, Vice President Joseph Biden put the vitriol of the presidential campaign trail to the side Wednesday during a stop in Dorchester where he discussed the “cancer moonshot” he is leading to accelerate research in the quest for a cure.

Tapped at the beginning of the year by Obama to lead the cancer effort, Biden visited the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate to discuss the progress he’s made so far to accelerate research into treatments and cures for the disease that claimed his son Beau’s life last year.

Biden noted the roles of Boston and its suburbs as leaders in medical research and treatment in the country, and the speech drew leaders from many of the state’s public universities, including UMass Medical School.

Biden’s stop in Boston came as he was preparing to campaign in New Hampshire on Thursday for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. The afternoon after the final debate between Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump, Biden is scheduled to headline a rally at Nashua Community College.

But in Boston, Biden left politics outside of the replica of the U.S. Senate chamber, which was a familiar scene for the Delaware Democrat who spent 36 years in the actual Senate. “Marty, since when did you become the Republican leader of the Senate,” Biden needled Boston Mayor Marty Walsh based on where he was sitting in the chamber.

Biden said he believes this latest effort to achieve in the next five years what might otherwise take a decade can succeed where President Richard Nixon’s war on cancer fell short because of decades of experience, advanced technology and training of medical researchers that were not available in 1971.

“At its core the moonshot is about two things: One, injecting as Dr. King said ‘the urgency of now,’ and two changing the system and the culture of medicine that existed in 1971 to accommodate these immense opportunities that exist in 2016,” Biden said.

Among the guests were Walsh, former interim U.S. Sens. Paul Kirk and Mo Cowan, UMass President Marty Meehan, UMass Medical School Chancellor Michael Collins, UMass Boston Chancellor Keith Motley, UMass Lowell Chancellor Jackie Maloney, state Reps. John Mahoney and Jim O’Day, Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian and Biden friend and public relations chieftain Larry Rasky.

Biden was introduced by Sen. Edward Kennedy’s widow Victoria Reggie Kennedy, who quoted from John F. Kennedy’s speech 46 years ago when he committed the country to landing on the moon.

Biden, who earlier in the day spoke to group of 20 CEOs in New York City about the cancer moonshot, spoke in subdued tones about the progress he’s made, the potential he sees for advancement and the obstacles that remain.

“Today, there’s a recognition that we’re so much further along than we were before but we’re still operating by the same structure and rules that were set down in 1971. The culture of medicine was very different then. The idea of sharing data, there was very little data to share,” Biden said.

On Monday, Biden presented the president with a summary of the initiative’s work to date and blueprint for moving forward.

While he said progress has been made to facilitate greater communication between government agencies, reduce the time it takes to patent new breakthroughs and make reams of data on patient lifestyle histories, genomes, and cancer tissues available to all researchers, Biden said more must be done.

Biden called for enhanced cancer prevention efforts, including making early detection technology available to disadvantaged populations. He also said government has a responsibility to remove carcinogens from water, soil and air to prevent occurrences of cancer, and encouraged the medical community to make research and a development a “team sport.”

The 73-year-old nearing the end of his political career was also enormously optimistic about areas of research where he said scientists are on the verge of making major progress.

He noted specifically the field of blood biopsies, which he said can identify genetic markers that may predispose individuals to certain types of cancer so that someone at risk of developing colon cancer doesn’t wait until they are 40 to get their first colonoscopy.

“We’re on the cusp of enormous, enormous, enormous progress…,” Biden said. “The one thing I know this country has the capacity to do anything, I mean anything, it sets its mind to. This is not a political statement. It’s a personal statement,” Biden said.

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