Joe Biden will be talking to more than 35,000 cancer professionals today -- here's what to expect

Vice President Joe Biden is speaking today in front of one of the largest gatherings of cancer doctors and healthcare executives in the world.

Biden and the White House launched a cancer “moonshot” initiative in January, and he’s spent the past few months compiling ideas and meeting with leaders in research and healthcare as he zeroes in on what the initiative will actually try and achieve.

The moonshot’s overarching objective is to “to eliminate cancer as we know it,” by fostering research, early detection, and access to treatment, according to the White House. But despite the lofty aims, it’s just as important for Biden to be clear about what the limitations are, Cancer Research Institute CEO Jill O’Donnell-Tormey told Business Insider.

“I think it’s important not to put a timetable on these things,” she said in an interview at the American Society of Clinical Oncology on Saturday.

She met Biden at an event in New York last week and was able to discuss the logistics of the moonshot. The Cancer Research Institute has been exploring cancer immunotherapy (a way of treating cancer that uses a person’s own immune system to go after tumour cells) since the 1950s.

“I told him: ‘point out, science doesn’t work like this, research isn’t linear,'” she said. “You can’t say we’re going to get from point A to point B in this many years, with this much money.”

O’Donnell-Tormey thinks the moonshot could yield great research by fostering collaboration among academic centres and pharmaceutical companies.

Not everyone is convinced right now that the moonshot will lead to a major advances in cancer treatment, but there’s a sense of cautious optimism.

“Do i think it’s the panacea? No. Am I certain we’re going to get data from there that has true value? Time will tell,” said Dr. Rachel Humphrey, chief medical officer of CytomX. Humphrey led development and launch of key immunotherapy drug used in cancer treatment when she worked at Bristol-Myers Squibb.

“I’m a bit sceptical about being overly optimistic, but then again in science you never know what you’ll find.”

Biden’s speech begins at 4 p.m. eastern time, at the ASCO conference in Chicago.

Here’s what the cancer moonshot initiative ultimately wants to do (according to a Cancer Moonshot Task Force Memo):

  • “Accelerate our understanding of cancer, and its prevention, early detection, treatment, and cure;
  • improve patient access and care;
  • support greater access to new research, data, and computational capabilities;
  • encourage development of cancer treatments;
  • identify and address any unnecessary regulatory barriers and consider ways to expedite administrative reforms;
  • ensure optimal investment of Federal resources; and
  • identify opportunities to develop public-private partnerships and increase coordination of the Federal Government’s efforts with the private sector, as appropriate.”

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