BURLINGTON — Vice President Joe Biden capped off an overnight visit to the Green Mountain State Friday with a discussion of the Cancer Moonshot task force he is heading at the request of the president.
Biden’s 45-minute remarks at the University of Vermont Friday morning highlighted the Cancer Moonshot initiative President Barack Obama called for in his January State of the Union Address. He tapped Biden, whose own son Beau died of brain cancer last year, to head the effort aimed at achieving 10 years of progress on cancer research in the next five years.
The university hosts the University of Vermont Cancer Center, which conducts research and more than 300 clinical trials each year in addition to treating cancer patients from around the state. Biden is visiting several similar centers to highlight the work of the task force.
The task force, headed by Biden, released a report Monday that sought to “decide how to clear the underbrush that was slowing up progress.” The report includes what the task force has done so far and included 50 recommendations on improving cancer research and care under future administrations.
Among the recommendations are changing incentives within the research system to encouraged a team dynamic rather than individual progress, creating better ways to share health information and expanding access to experimental treatment.
“We are so far behind the curve on some of the simple things that could make a gigantic differences,” Biden told the crowd of several hundred people.
The vice president noted the challenge many people diagnosed with cancer finding clinical trials that could help them.
“We have a system where only 4 percent of all people in America diagnosed with cancer are able to get into any kind of trial,” he said. “Trials, sometimes, are the only vehicle by which you have any prospect of your live being saved. Why is that?”
The task force has helped create a database of trials that now allows people to input their age and diagnoses and find every available trial within their region.
Biden, who said he seeks to “defeat this damn disease,” said the effort must be bipartisan and noted that many Republicans back the initiative. He called on Congress to move forward in a bipartisan way and continue funding efforts to combat cancer.
“Let’s all make an agreement to be unwilling to postpone for another day what we know we can do,” he said.
Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, who invited Biden to Vermont, said he would work in his capacity as the senior Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee to do his part.
“We will keep that money coming,” Leahy said.
The so-called moonshot, a reference to former President John F. Kennedy’s goal of landing a human on the moon, was called for by Biden last year on the very same day he announced to the country that he would not run for president.
“When I walked out into the [White House] Rose Garden almost a year ago today and announced … that I wasn’t going to seek the nomination, it was spontaneous when I said it, it wasn’t planned, I said that I would regret that I will not be the president who gets to preside over the end of cancer as we know it,” Biden said.
A few months later Obama announced the creation of the task force and appointed Biden to lead it.
Biden said Friday that the ultimate goal is to find a cure for the disease, but other progress can be made now.
“That’s the Holy Grail. How do you turn off the mutant gene? But, in the meantime, there are hundreds and thousands of things we can do to cure particular cancers,” he said.
Biden’s overnight visit included some politicking. He attended an Addison County fundraiser benefiting Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton on Thursday evening. On Friday morning, Biden gave a boost to Sue Minter, the Vermont Democratic Party’s nominee for governor.
Biden ate breakfast with Minter, Sen. Patrick Leahy and Leahy’s wife, Marcelle, at Penny Cluse in Burlington. After ordering a stack of blueberry pancakes, Biden worked the room full of patrons surprised by his appearance, with Minter at his side. The duo left the restaurant arm-in-arm, providing Minter with plenty of photo ops as she campaigns against Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, the Republican gubernatorial nominee.
Biden, at the Cancer Moonshot event, also offered praise to outgoing Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin and Democratic U.S. Rep. Peter Welch.
“The governor has been one of the most competent and respected governors in the country,” he said. “You’ve done a great job, not only here, governor, but helping other governors.”
Meanwhile, Biden described Welch as “indefatigable,” and said he is a tireless representative.
Leahy was also praised by Biden, who said it “is a point of personal privilege that Jill [Biden] and I have traveled all over with the Leahys.”
Burlington Free Press reporter Jess Aloe, who served as the print pool reporter, contributed reporting for this story.