Biden seeks input for cancer 'moonshot' at Duke University

AP News
Posted: Feb 10, 2016 7:25 PM
Biden seeks input for cancer 'moonshot' at Duke University

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — With an ambitious funding request pending before Congress, Vice President Joe Biden sought Wednesday to fill out the White House's cancer "moonshot" with input from doctors and researchers at a hub for medical innovation.

Biden toured labs at Duke University before sitting down with medical professionals from across the North Carolina region known as the Research Triangle for its mix of higher education and technology companies. Breaking down boundaries is a key theme of the White House's effort, which was evidenced by the panel of speakers representing a mixture of medical specialties, philanthropies and community health advocacy.

"There are multiple, multiple disciplines that are needed to attack this disease," Biden told the group before asking for examples of how they worked across specialties or found other ways to innovate.

It was Biden's first trip to a university since the president announced his budget request this month for most of the $1 billion the administration hopes to spend on the search for cancer cures. The effort is deeply personal for Biden, whose 46-year-old son, former Delaware state Attorney General Beau Biden, died from brain cancer in May.

On Wednesday, Biden toured the lab led by Duke biochemistry professor Paul Modrich, who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry last year for his work studying the way bodies repair damage to DNA — important research for developing cancer treatments.

"The work this guy has done has been absolutely mind-blowing," Biden said while researchers nearby labeled vials and dispensed liquids from a pipette.

During his remarks before an audience of more than 100 people, Biden talked about the importance of gathering and analyzing enormous amounts of clinical and research data that already exists. He said he hopes to overcome obstacles that range from corporations' desire to protect profitable information to devising a uniform system of terms on patient charts for easier computer analysis.

"We have to break down these silos and share the data," he said, adding that there are "pieces of data spread all over the world."

Dr. Shelley Hwang, the chief of breast surgery at Duke's Cancer Institute, suggested that the federal government could lead the way on helping institutions structure their data for better retrieval and agreeing on common terms for inputting patient information.

"It's important for us all to talk the same language," she said.

President Barack Obama is asking Congress for $755 million for cancer research in his upcoming budget, which would be added to funds already approved by lawmakers last year. The administration hopes to use the money on new programs at the National Institutes of Health and other agencies.

The White House launched the effort this year, titling it after the ambitious and groundbreaking work done by the government decades ago to land on the moon.

There appears to be bipartisan support for increasing cancer research through the White House proposal. Sen Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. and chairman of the Senate's health panel, said in an interview late last week that he was evaluating the proposal and hoped to marshal support from Republicans and Democrats.

"This isn't politics. This is the kind of work that we know helps almost every family that we represent," he said.


Associated Press writer Josh Lederman in Washington contributed to this report.