Stronger teamwork among researchers, sharing data, and realignment of incentives for scientific breakthroughs, in addition to more funding, are key steps needed to advance cancer research, Vice President Joe Biden said during the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR).
During a plenary speech to close the meeting, Vice President Biden praised the dedication of current cancer researchers and pledged to break down the walls that prevent them from achieving more progress in the field.
“I made a commitment that I will – as I gain this information and knowledge – I will eliminate the barriers that get in your way, get in the way of science and research and development,” he said. “I had to ... learn from all of you how we can proceed, how we can break down silos, how we can accommodate more rapidly the efforts you’re making.”
Vice President Biden, who is leading a new $1 billion initiative to eliminate cancer called “Moonshot,” outlined the top obstacles to cancer research he has garnered from recent visits with renowned cancer scientists and research leaders around the world. This includes a lack of unity among researchers, poor rewards for novel research, and limited data sharing, he said.
“The way the system now is set up, researchers are not incentivized to share their data,” Vice President Biden said, acknowledging that some medical experts are against the idea. “But every expert I’ve spoken to said you need to share these data to move this process rapidly.”
Involving patients earlier in clinical trials design is also a primary focus, he said. Patients should understand more about trials and be more open to signing up.
He noted the “incredible” research currently being conducted by various entities, such as AACR’s Project Genie, Orion Foundation, and The Parker Institute. Mr. Biden stressed however, that such efforts are too isolated.
“It raises [the] question: ‘Why is all this being done separately?’ ” Vice President Biden said. “Why is so much money being spent when if it’s aggregated, everyone acknowledges, the answers would come more quickly?”
Incentives for new research and the way in which funding is alloted must also be redesigned, he stressed. Today, it takes too long for researchers to get projects approved by the government and funding dispersed. He acknowledged the difficulty researchers face in obtaining grants and the fact that those who think “outside the box” are less likely to receive funding.
“It seems to me that we slow down our best minds by making them spend years in the lab before they can get their own grants and, when they do, they spend a third of their time writing a grant that takes months to be approved and awarded,” he said. “It’s like asking Derek Jeter to take several years off to sell bonds to build Yankee stadium.”
The Vice President did not purport to have all the answers, and asked those at the AARC meeting to provide feedback on his suggestions.
“The question I’d ask you to contemplate, because I’d like you to communicate with us, is, ‘Does it require realigning incentives; changing behaviors to take advantage of this inflection point? Does it require sharing more knowledge, treatment, and understanding? Or does that slow the process up?’ ”
He added,“I hope you all know it, but you’re one of the most valuable resources that our great country has, those of you sitting in this room. So ask your institutions, your colleagues, your mentors, your administrators: How can we move your ideas faster together in the interest of patients?”
The Vice President’s Moonshot initiative was announced during President Obama’s 2016 State of the Union Address. The effort includes a new Cancer Moonshot Task Force that will focus on federal investments, targeted incentives, private sector efforts from industry and philanthropy, patient engagement initiatives, and other mechanisms to support cancer research and enable progress in treatment and care, according to the White House. As part of the plan, the President’s fiscal 2017 budget proposes $755 million in mandatory funds for new cancer-related research activities at the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration. The initiative also includes increased investments by the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs in cancer research, including through funding centers of excellence focused on specific cancers and conducting longitudinal studies to determine risk factors and enhance treatment.
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