Remarks by the Vice President on the Cancer Moonshot, Melbourne AU
Victoria Comprehensive Cancer Centre
10:25 A.M. (Local)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Premier, it’s truly an honor to be here. And, Doctor, you said that this was an important effort for Australia. This is an important effort for the world. And I mean that sincerely. That's not hyperbole.
What you're doing here adds somewhat exponentially to the prospects of us being able to do in the next five years what would otherwise take 10 to 15 years. We're on the cusp of so many potential breakthroughs. And as we were talking upstairs to some of the brilliant researchers that you've introduced me to is that is that all of you know -- and my guess is I’m looking at some of the people who put this together; I don't know who among you -- but on behalf of the United States of America and behalf of every cancer patient in the United States of America, thank you for this. I mean this sincerely. Thank you for this effort.
Cancer research has not really been a team sport the last 25 years. But you're making it -- we say in the States -- a team sport. And I just know that the commonwealth and the state government of Victoria has poured your heart and a lot of your money -- but your heart -- and your interest into this -- building this facility.
It’s a testament to your tenacity as well as your dedication to the fight against cancer. And as the memorandum of understand that we are announcing today between the United States and Australia -- and there’s been a lot of collaboration up to this point, but a formal memorandum of understanding, I’ve called for my government to -- quite frankly, this Moonshot is a slightly different approach that we're taking in the States that we've taken before. And the President and I almost wish we hadn’t called it the Moonshot because that phrase has been used in the past. And it really is more like the Manhattan Project. It’s really about a collaboration in a way that hasn’t happened before.
What the President has done for the first time -- any President has done -- he has turned to me and put me in charge of the entire federal government so that of any agency -- there’s 13 that have anything to do with cancer, cancer research, or treatment -- so there’s one person now who has the ability to direct, collaborate, and dictate, if need be, cooperation in a way -- because we have enormous resources, like all of you do. And part of this is not -- there’s enormous new discoveries that are in the offering. But if we just took everything we knew now and we dealt with it better than we do now, we would be a lot further along than we are now. At least in the United States.
And we have enormous opportunities. And so when I called for my government to lead this effort, it was to end cancer as we know it and to try to do much more rapidly what is going to be able to be done eventually. Some cynics pointed out that they thought it would call for the cure for cancer within five years. There are 200 cancers. There is on Alzheimer’s. There is one -- I can go through all the other disease of great consequences, but this is a complex set of diseases we call cancer.
And everywhere I’ve traveled over the past year since the President put me in charge of this effort at the State of the Union Address -- I might add without telling me he was going to do it. (Laughter.) Thank you, Mr. President. But he knows how passionate I am about making more progress.
But as a consequence of that I’ve made a point to spend the first six or eight months just traveling the world, primarily initially the United States, but traveling the world to meet with the greatest cancer researchers in the world. I have met with seven Nobel laureates so far. I’ve met with over 17,000 cancer researchers in the two major organizations that exist in the United States that include worldwide members. I’ve been to 10 of the 12 largest cancer research centers in the United States of America. I’ve had multiple meetings. I’ve traveled the world. And no matter where I go in the world, for whatever purpose, and I spend a lot of time on the road on behalf of the President dealing with foreign policy, but it’s interesting, since the Moonshot was announced, whether I’m sitting in the UAE with MBZ, who is the leader there; or I am in Japan with Prime Minister Abe, it is -- no matter what the subject, from ISIS to the South China Sea, the first thing that gets mentioned is, by the way, Mr. Vice President, can we talk about cancer? Not a joke.
We had a meeting of all the nuclear powers in the world and all those sitting down deciding on how we're going to curtail the spread of nuclear weapons. Fifty heads of state sitting in the East Room -- the west room of the White House. Before it began, the President started off by saying, I know a lot of you want to talk to Joe about cancer -- this is on nuclear weapons -- but let’s do this first. My point is what you're doing here is profound. It has an impact in every, every corner of the world.
And if we don't make the kind of progress we need to make, there will be by the year 2025, 25 million new cases of cancer per year. It’s profound. Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Israel, UAE, Japan, Jordan, South Korea, Iraq, Pope Francis, they've all asked -- and we've asked to become part of a much larger consortium in order to be able to deal with this problem.
And I start by sharing what I’ve learned at those top cancer research institutions and the scientists and philanthropists with whom I’ve met that -- as I said upstairs with some of your brilliant personnel -- the science and medicine of cancer has reached an inflection point. This opportunity did not exist six years, eight years ago, 10 years ago. This is the first time really four and a half, five years ago that immunologists actually began to work with geneticists; actually began to work with genome; actually began to work with virologists; actually began to work with chemical and biological engineers. That collaboration did not exist. I was unaware of that.
One of the ways all of you have become acquainted with the science behind the attempts to deal with curing cancer is, like me, you have someone you love and adored who was afflicted with that disease. You try to learn as much as you can as rapidly as you.
And you learn that that a day makes a difference. You learn that people who know they have no chance are just saying to their clinicians: Can you just give me one more month so I could give my daughter away at her wedding? Can you give me six more months, I want to see my son graduate from college? If I just have a little more time, I can put this deal together so when I go my wife will be financially all right and will not have to sell the house.
This is ultimately all personal. It’s personal. It’s minutes. It’s hours. It’s days. It’s months.
And the data -- right now today, the conditions of cancer organizations and coalitions are going on, they're beginning to aggregate genomics, patient records, family histories, lifestyles using supercomputing power to find answers that we don't have right now.
We have the capacity -- we are now computing in the United States, a million billion calculations per second. Our Department of Energy within the next two years will be able to compute a billion billion calculations per second. The more data of relevance we can aggregate, we can save in light years the time it would take the most brilliant minds to go through and find patterns as to why a particular drug for the same cancer the two of you have worked on you and not on you. This matters. This matters.
The data technology firms today are converting that data into machine-readable formats. We are making it more accessible to researchers, discovering new patterns that can deliver results for patients that are not now available -- only now becoming available.
The MOU we're announcing today capitalizes on this moment. I think we're going to be able to share patient histories and proteogenomics and clinical phenotypes data -- data on various proteins and genetic characteristics of almost 60,000 patients in Australia and the United States with full privacy protections.
What this means is that researchers around the world will better be able to understand what causes particular cancers, how to target the cancers, more effective treatment, and how to keep the cancer from returning, which in many cases it almost always does.
Let me put it this way. Knowing the 20 people on a basketball roster gives you a clue about the team you're going to be facing the next day. But the winning strategy comes from finding out who their starting lineup is. Who are the five of those 20 you are going to have to defend against? In our fight against cancer, the genes are the rosters and all the players available. If you excuse this homely metaphor, proteins are the starting lineup, those players who actually make it onto the court. Before the science focuses mostly on the genes of cancer, getting only part of the picture. But now researchers here and other parts of the world are turning to understand both the genes and the proteins -- the proteogenomics, as they call it. And you're doing excellent work right here in this magnificent new facility.
The MOU we're announcing today will give us more rosters and starting lineups to pore over for us to better understand cancer and how we can beat it. And it follows up on my call that I made earlier this year at the Vatican conference with Pope Francis, some of you were present, for each nation to contribute genomics and medical record data for at least 100,000 people over the next several years. We’ll be able to assess literally records across the world of well over millions of people. Millions. And as I said, that's what we call Big Data. And it has phenomenal potential in the hands of brilliant researchers like the woman I just met. I told her when she wins the Nobel Prize I want to be invited. And I’m only partially kidding.
At the same time, we outlined other guideposts for an international commitment to end cancer as we know it. And I’ll just take a few more moments with your permission.
First, for this international response, we have to increase our global focus on cancer prevention, as well as treatment and access and affordability, which is a major issue in my country and in yours.
One product that worked very well that came on market for a particular cancer in 2012 -- 2002 was $28,000 a year. It’s now $148,000 per year. I don't get it. And that's worrying drug companies that I don't get it because we got to get. We need the research. They waste a lot of money on dry holes. They deserve to be compensated. But there is some relationship.
And so the second thing we have to do is raise the international response to cancer with the same urgency that we bring to infectious disease. When we were dealing with the Ebola threat in Africa, the President of the United States -- because the World Health Organization was not up to it -- organized the effort himself. We got the United States military to go to Africa. We spent billions of dollars, raised hundreds of billions of dollars. The world responded. We need the same sense of urgency in the fight against cancer.
We have to increase research and patient data sharing among researchers, institutions, foundations, and nations. As I was saying to the doctor, one of the things I am most grateful for -- it may not have been his intention -- but you are setting the standard here, Doctor, that is going to be impossible for the great research institutions and cancer institutions of the world to ignore. They will be shamed into doing what you are doing -- making available for the world to use with the proper safeguards this data. It’s amazing how quickly the culture is changing.
One of the things I’m most grateful to you about is this example you're setting here.
Fourth, the support of international standardization of data and bio-repositories so when oncologists or medical centers create electronic health records for a patient, those records can actually be shared and compared with the data from medical centers across the world. We're not there.
The President and I thought we were being very smart when we came up with the Recovery Act, where we spent almost a trillion dollars -- over $840 billion spent in 15 months, and by the way, less than .2 percent waste or fraud for every outside group that looked at it. For a fact. And one of the things we wanted to do is to change government, as well as keep us from going the way Europe went in terms of the aftermath of the recovery -- or of the Great Recession. And so we provided $35 billion for electronic recordkeeping -- because every expert in the world told us this is critically important. But what we didn't know was we created five separate silos.
One a point of personal privilege, as we used to say in the United States Senate, my son was at MD Anderson. He was in a trial of one, with anti-PD-1 and a virus injected into his brain for his glioblastoma. He needed to have his test every day. Trying to get the information from Walter Reed down to MD Anderson was impossible. We had to take photographs of it and/or fly it down. In the 21st century, can you imagine running any multi-billion-dollar institution that way? So we got a lot of work to do. It’s no one’s fault. I’m not ascribing blame. But we have a lot that we have to sort of clean up, that's within our wheelhouse that we can do.
And so making sure that these records can be shared and compared with data from medical centers across the world will make a big difference. But it’s going to take time, and it’s going to take a lot of investment.
And we have to increase worldwide government investment in research. But as my grandfather used to say, telling you that here is like preaching to the choir. You're way ahead.
Imagine what we can do with data -- if we have the supercomputing capacity we have, imagine if we had data in a central repository or shared in the cloud of research -- genomics, health data records, et cetera, in one place -- imagine what we could do with global sets of patient data to represent the great international diversity of populations -- of people and of cancers. Imagine if all this data was available to researchers across the globe now. And imagine when other cancers can be prevented, treated, cured or made into manageable chronic conditions. And imagine the day when we treat a cancer -- when the treatment of cancer in some cases is a distant memory; when our children get vaccines for cancer as routinely as they do for mumps and measles. Imagine the research going on right here in this facility and three facilities at home where you can have “blood biopsies,” where you can actually test your blood to find markers that not only determine whether or not the treatment you're getting is working, but what precursor markers you have in your bloodstream that can prevent you from ever acquiring the cancer in the first place. There’s enormous, enormous possibilities.
And that's what this MOU we're signing is all about.
Let me close by saying we all have reasons to be in this fight. Part of the Cancer Moonshot, the President asked me to lead is honoring the way my son Major Beau Biden lived his life with courage, and never giving up hope in his battle against cancer. But it’s just not my son. I’ve met hundreds and hundreds of people -- including just two nights ago, a sports figure at the Espy Awards who knows he’s dying of cancer and gets up every single, solitary day like my Beau, who was attorney general in the state of Delaware, going to work as he’s losing his voice and his ability to walk or raise his right hand -- his right side. Every day, getting up. Every day, moving. There’s tens of thousands of those people you're dealing with now and trying to help. It’s about all of us.
But most of all, it’s about not giving up hope; not giving up the fight. I’m convinced we can do this. This is way beyond, as we say, the province of my wheelhouse. But I’m pretty good at organizing. I’m pretty good at knocking down barriers. And I’m relatively good, at least in my own country, of convincing people the way we should move.
This is an opportunity that hadn’t come along in the history of the fight against cancer. And thank God we have people like you -- the people I’m looking at right now. Thank God you were willing to do this -- it’s not just a magnificent structure. This is symbolic of the hope, in my view, the aspiration, the possibilities that you're offering to so many of your countrymen, and so many people around the world.
I’m grateful to the people of Australia and Victoria for their incredible devotion and commitment to this cause. And that is not hyperbole. I mean it from the bottom of my heart. I give you my word as a Biden. I’m grateful for what you're doing because you're going to change peoples’ lives in a way that hadn’t occurred in all of history. And I’m grateful you allowed me to be here.
God bless you all and may God protect our troops. Thank you. (Applause.)
10:48 A.M. (Local)