At SXSW, Bi­den pushes to end di­vi­sions that hurt can­cer fight

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - By Omar L. Gal­laga ogal­laga@states­

In an emo­tional speech at South by South­west on Sun­day, for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den de­scribed his frus­tra­tion with gov­ern­ment si­los pre­vent­ing can­cer re­search from mov­ing for­ward and talked about the work he and his wife, Jill, are do­ing with the Bi­den Foun­da­tion can­cer ini­tia­tive.

The so-called Can­cer Moon­shot work, to which the Bi­dens say they plan to de­vote the rest of their lives, was the topic of a much-an­tic­i­pated pre­sen­ta­tion at the con­fer­ence, where gov­ern­ment talk has taken cen­ter stage amid a di­vi­sive po­lit­i­cal cli­mate.

Joe Bi­den stopped short of de­vot­ing sig­nif­i­cant time to crit­i­ciz­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, but he did draw ap­plause at one point for ref­er­enc­ing Trump by sug­gest­ing that not car­ing about clean air or wa­ter is cor­re­lated to the fight against can­cer.

“It frus­trates me,” Bi­den said, with­out call­ing Trump by name.

In­stead, af­ter be­ing in­tro­duced by his wife, Bi­den spent the bulk of his hour­long talk at the Austin Con­ven­tion Cen­ter de­scrib­ing what work has been done on the can­cer ini­tia­tive and the work that needs to be done.

In par­tic­u­lar, Bi­den said, 50 years of walls erected be­tween dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines — in­clud­ing gov­ern­ment, phi­lan­thropy and medicine — need to be bro-

ken down.

“If we did noth­ing more than break down the si­los of pre­vent­ing greater col­lab­o­ra­tion be­cause of how the sys­tem has been ar­ranged, not in­ten­tion­ally ... we could ex­tend the life of a lot of peo­ple with can­cer,” Bi­den said.

As an ex­am­ple, Bi­den cited a case in which, un­der the ad­min­is­tra­tion of for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, $30 mil­lion was awarded to im­prove elec­tronic record keep­ing. “It got di­vided up five ways, into six dif­fer­ent si­los. You can’t share in­for­ma­tion, by de­sign even,” he said.

As to why he chose South by South­west to de­liver this mes­sage, Bi­den said that he needs the col­lec­tive help of the kinds of peo­ple who at­tend the con­fer­ence.

“South by South­west has brought to­gether some of the most cre­ative minds in the world,” Bi­den said. Even those who work in tech­nol­ogy as en­ter­tain­ment can in­no­vate in ways to fight can­cer in un­ex­pected ways, he said.

“That’s why we need your help. You’re the fu­ture. We can solve these prob­lems. These are tech­no­log­i­cal prob­lems. These are not can­cer prob­lems. Some of the most in­no­va­tive minds in the world are sit­ting in front of me,” Bi­den said.

The Can­cer Moon­shot ini­tia­tive, Bi­den said, be­gan when he had de­cided not to run for pres­i­dent in 2016 and was ready to an­nounce it in the White House Rose Gar­den.

“I would have loved to have been the pres­i­dent who presided over the end of can­cer as we know it,” he re­mem­bered telling Obama, which put into mo­tion the work, spurred by the death from can­cer of his son, Beau. .

Joe Bi­den spoke of the end of his son’s life qui­etly and emo­tion­ally as he de­scribed a clin­i­cal trial in which his son par­tic­i­pated and how he felt when Congress, led by po­lit­i­cal ri­val Mitch McCon­nell, named a chunk of can­cer fund­ing for Beau.

“The one thing I know maybe bet­ter than any­body liv­ing is the Congress,” Joe Bi­den said. “And guess what? Guess what? The only bi­par­ti­san thing left in Amer­ica is the fight against can­cer.”

By the end of the talk, Bi­den was elic­it­ing tears from the crowd. Ref­er­enc­ing for­mer Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy, he ended the SXSW pre­sen­ta­tion by de­scrib­ing the des­per­a­tion of those dy­ing of can­cer who want just one more month, or even a day. He con­cluded: “That’s the ur­gency of now. This mo­ment. This in­stant.”

Bi­den said bet­ter use of money tax­pay­ers al­ready are putting to­ward can­cer re­search, bet­ter ac­cess to clin­i­cal tri­als and more wide­spread shar­ing of crit­i­cal data are keys to the can­cer bat­tle.

“Your gov­ern­ment that many of you don’t like is the ve­hi­cle for how this gets funded,” he said.

Con­tact Omar L. Gal­laga at 512-445-3672. Twit­ter: @omarg


For­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den out­lines the Bi­den Foun­da­tion can­cer ini­tia­tive dur­ing a panel dis­cus­sion at SXSW at the Austin Con­ven­tion Cen­ter on Sun­day. He called for the walls be­tween gov­ern­ment, phi­lan­thropy and medicine to be bro­ken down.


A Con­ven­tion Cen­ter crowd waits for for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den to out­line the Bi­den can­cer ini­tia­tive at SXSW on Sun­day.

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