Former US vice president Joe Biden at SXSW 2017: 'Your government' is how curing cancer 'gets done'

AUSTIN, TX — Former Vice President Joe Biden may have left office in January, but that hasn’t stopped him from stumping.

Biden spoke on Sunday at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas to talk about The Cancer Initiative, a program that continues the work he began under the White House Cancer Moonshot Task Force.

The Cancer Moonshot Taskforce was established last January to foster research and facilitate access to treatment and detection to “eliminate cancer as we know it.” The program will recieve nearly $US2 billion in federal funding over the next several years.

Biden and his wife, who both received a standing ovation at the conference, are now working on the Biden Foundation, which advocates for many of the issues crucial during his political career from cancer research and military families to community college access and ending violence against women.

Biden is currently raising money to continue the Moonshot Taskforce’s work and, while private philanthropy is important, he said on Sunday that federal budgets for research are even more important.

“Billions and billions of dollars [for research] comes from tax payers. Your government, that many of you don’t like, is the vehicle of how this [curing cancer] gets done,” Biden told the crowd.

As such, Biden vowed to work with the Trump Administration to continue the fight against cancer.

“I’m confident we can get through it. I’m confident we can get it done. And I’m confident that the new admin, once it gets organised, and I”m not being facetious, it will be as enthusiastic of ending cancer as know it. I promise to do everything in my power to work with new organisation to end cancer,” Biden said.

During the SXSW speech, Biden relayed how he became the leader of the Moonshot Task Cancer (paraphrased):

Biden’s son, Beau, had recently died of cancer. As he wrestled with his grief, he was also in the middle of a decision of whether to run for president in the 2016 election. He had been putting off the decision, until he finally realised, “I didn’t have the stomach to do it.”

In October 2015, Biden announced his decision not to run from a press conference in the Rose Garden. Obama attended the press conference and, on the way out, Biden made an off-hand comment to him.

“I have one regret in making this decision not to run,” Biden said he told Obama. “I would have liked to have been the President that presided over the end of cancer as we know it.”

In January 2016, Obama announced at his final State of the Union that Biden would lead the Moonshot project, much to Biden’s surprise.

While the federal government has taken on cancer before — most notable in 1971, under President Nixon — Biden said that he felt that by “injecting an overwhelming sense of urgency,” he and others could change the how we fight cancer.

To start the initiative, Biden gathered all government agencies working on cancer, and some that weren’t, and told them to find someone to run the initiative. The agencies told them it would take 9 months. He responded that they had a week or they were fired.

“Son of a gun, it worked,” Biden said.

The Moonshot project created collaborations between 20 government agencies or departments and over 70 private sector partners.

One of Biden’s biggest successes was convincing pharmaceutical companies to work together to figure out how their drugs could work in tandem and how much each could be expected to be paid when drugs are prescribed together.

In addition, he helped pass on the biggest bipartisan bills in 2016 — the 21st Century Cures Act, a $US6.3 billion bill that also provides $US1.8 billion of funding over seven years for the Cancer Moonshot’s scientific priorities.

To Biden’s surprise, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell presided over the decision to rename the research project “The Beau Biden Initiative.”

After he set up agreements for researchers across the world to share their data, he received an unexpected call from Amazon, who told him that they would provide the cloud space for the cancer data for free.

Since then, that data has been accessed 80 million times by researchers over the world, according to Biden. “So, what does Amazon have to do with curing cancer? There’s hope,” Biden said.

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