At the AACR Annual Meeting, Vice President Joe Biden calls for overhauling cancer research initiatives. []
At the AACR Annual Meeting, Vice President Joe Biden calls for overhauling cancer research initiatives. []

Vice President Joe Biden today called for an overhaul of incentives for cancer research that he said would speed up development of new treatments and spread the word about new discoveries faster.

“Yes, this system has produced enormous successes. But this is not the system, in my view, that will get us to our goal faster,” Biden told attendees at the “Highlights 2016: Vision for the Future” Plenary Session of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting, held in New Orleans.

“I believe together we can redesign a new system or adjust to a new system to better support your efforts and save lives sooner than otherwise would have been,” he added.

Biden—who lost his son Beau, 46, to brain cancer last year—leads the federal government’s “Moonshot” national effort aimed at achieving a decade worth of advances against cancer in 5 years. The initiative was launched in January by President Obama.

“Ask your institutions, your colleagues, your mentors, your administrators: How can we move your ideas faster, together, in the interest of patients?” Biden rhetorically asked researchers.

Biden answered his own question with a series of policy priorities he said should be translated into new incentives for cancer research.

The first priority cited by the vice president was data sharing. Biden defended the concept as essential to advancing the process of cancer research and countered a January 21 New England Journal of Medicine editorial in which editor-in-chief Jeffrey Drazen, M.D., contended that data sharing could breed data “parasites.”

Four days later, Dr. Drazen clarified NEJM’s position by adding that with “appropriate systems” in place, “we will require a commitment from authors to make available the data that underlie the reported results of their work within 6 months after we publish them.”

Other priorities Biden said should serve as the basis of new incentives:

  • Involve patients in clinical trial design—Raising awareness of trials, and allowing patients to participate in how they are designed and conducted, could help address the difficulty of recruiting patients for studies. Only 4% of cancer patients are involved in a trial, he said.
  • “Let scientists do science”—Biden contrasted unfavorably NIH’s roughly 1-year process for decisions on grants to that of the Prostate Cancer Foundation, which limits grant applications to 10 pages and decides on those funding requests within 30 days: “Why is it that it takes multiple submissions and more than a year to get an answer from us?” Biden said.
  • Encourage grants from younger researchers—Biden decried the current professional system under which younger researchers are sidetracked for years doing administrative work in labs before they can pursue their own research grants: “It’s like asking Derek Jeter to take several years off to sell bonds to build Yankee Stadium,” the VP quipped.
  • Measure progress by outcomes—Rather than the quantity of research papers generated by grants, Biden said, “what you propose and how it affects patients, it seems to me, should be the basis of whether you continue to get the grant.”
  • Promote open-access publication of results—Biden criticized academic publishing’s reliance on paid-subscription journals that block content behind paywalls and which own data for up to a year. He contrasted that system with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s stipulation that the research it funds be published in an open-access journal and be freely available once published.
  • Reward verification—Research that verifies results through replication should be encouraged, Biden said, which acknowledging that few people now get such funding.

Biden recalled how following Beau’s diagnosis with cancer, he and his wife Jill Biden, Ed.D., who introduced the VP at the AACR event, “had access to the best doctors in the world.”

“The more we talked to them, the more we understood that we are on the cusp of a real inflection point in the fight against cancer.”

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