Oped: Can Biden’s canceled cancer initiative be salvaged?

July 18, 2019

The Hill

There’s a certain irony to the fact that one day short of the 50th anniversary of the historic launching of Apollo 11’s mission to the moon, it was reported that the Biden Cancer Initiative (BCI) — based on the Obama White House’s Cancer Moonshot Initiative — announced that it had suspended its operations indefinitely.
And there’s another irony that what we had long criticized as being a largely partisan effort should be ending because Joe Biden has decided to seek the Democratic nomination for president.
At least that seemed to be the reason, according the BCI’s president Greg Simon, a former aide to Al Gore and former head of Michael Milken’s FasterCures charity, who noted on the Biden initiative’s website July 11 that the organization is “suspending activities given our unique circumstances.”
The statement explained that since its creation as an independent nonprofit created in June 2017, “the Biden Cancer Initiative has focused on creating and implementing programs and platforms that accelerated progress against cancer…. We remain personally committed to the cause, but at this time will have to pause efforts. We thank the community for their incredible response to our mission to improve the cancer journey for patients and to improve outcomes for all patients for generations to come.”
Biden’s foundation was an offshoot of the President’s Cancer Moonshot program launched during Obama’s final state-of-the-union address in January 2016, where he famously appointed his then vice president to lead the effort. A large part of its projected success was predicated on the White House’s ability to force collaboration across various government agencies.
This is something many cancer advocates and patients have wanted to see for years. It’s not easy to find people with very big identities who will put their names on an issue. Most in the cancer community admire the effort.
Biden’s son Beau died of glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer, in May 2015 and it was a primary reason Biden had decided not to seek the nomination in 2016.
Biden and his wife Jill had left the organization’s board of directors in April before he had announced his intention to run, but it was not expected that organization’s pronounced commitment “to ending cancer as we know it” would suddenly shutter its operations.
For nearly half-a-century, “the war on cancer” has been been waged on the political football field as well as in research laboratories, and promises have been made by various administrations and organizations to end the dreaded disease.
We are sad that another laudable private effort initially launched by the government should fall victim to the politics of politics, and that the assets of that initiative have not been transitioned to others willing to continue its work.
Cancer research and the public deserve better.
Nancy G. Brinker is the founder of Susan G. Komen. She is currently cofounder of the Promise Fund of Florida and has also served as U.S. ambassador to Hungary, U.S. chief of protocol and as a Goodwill Ambassador for Cancer Control to the U.N.’s World Health Organization. Find her on Twitter: @NancyGBrinker. Eric T. Rosenthal writes about and develops forums for discussing health care issues and policy and is the founder of the National Cancer Institute-Designated Cancer Centers Public Affairs Network. Find him on Twitter: @etrosenthal