I was flipping through Internet news when I landed on a fascinating Today Show interview by NBC News Reporter Tom Brokaw with outgoing US Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, who were discussing their support for the new $1 billion cancer “moonshot” initiative. Fascinating, because it telescoped a radical change from the not-so-distant “war on cancer” to an evolving collaborative approach.
The interview was additionally interesting because of the impact cancer has had on the lives of Brokow, who is fighting his own battle, and the Bidens, who lost their son to brain cancer. Joe Biden has “an added degree of passion because of what happened to Beau,” Brokaw told NBC News Reporter Lester Holt in a preview. “He’s turned his grief into energy,” and what’s different about this cancer-fighting project is that we now have more information from the human genome project, Brokaw explained.
What Biden is trying to do is “not tip over the tables, … but to get everybody at the table.” It’s not about the destination, Brokaw said, but “all the people that you bring into the process. [Biden] used John F. Kennedy as an example: We’re going to go to the moon, but to get there they needed to get the best engineers, the best scientists, and the best builders—at the same table the oncologists, the researchers, the big pharma people to turn out the drugs, so there is a common core so everybody is operating off the same page.”
In a separate interview with the Today Show’s Matt Lauer, Brokaw clarified the difference between the “war on cancer” and the emerging collaborative moonshot approach: “The war on cancer was against cancer in a kind of generic way. This moonshot is about the many parts of cancer and the research that is going on in many parts. And the big, big challenge is to drop the silos so that everybody is working toward one goal."
Sound familiar? Now let’s cut to the actual interview, which clarified the problem and highlighted the emerging solution: “The immunotherapists did not work with the geneticists. The geneticists were not working with the oncologists,” explained Biden. “Unlike any other time in the treatment of cancer, all these various disciplines are [now] working together. Now we can do a thousand-billion calculations per second.”
Biden lamented the high price of drugs, much as ASAP 2016 BioPharma Conference Keynote Speaker Dr. Sam Nussbaum said, as covered in this blog post:
‘Dr. Sam’ Nussbaum: Healing the US Healthcare System One Politician at a Time
“There’s one particular drug that works very well that came out in 2002. It cost something like $27 [or} $28,000 a year. It’s now $130,000 a year,” Biden pointed out. “Flat screen TV’s started off at $2,000 a screen; now you can buy the same thing for $300. The more people use it, the more the price goes down. Ironically, the more people have used this particular drug, the price has gone up.”
To watch the Brokaw interviews and see how cancer research is evolving to a more collaborative approach, click here.
More Brokaw Interviews
**Image credit Today Show.