At Vatican, Joe Biden Calls for ‘Moonshot’ Campaign to Cure Cancer

The U.S. vice president called on governments and philanthropists to invest in regenerative medicine so that even the poor might have access to top-of-the-line medical treatments.

Pope Francis and U.S. vice president Joe Biden at the International Conference on Regenerative Medicine in Vatican City, April 29.
Pope Francis and U.S. vice president Joe Biden at the International Conference on Regenerative Medicine in Vatican City, April 29. (photo: L'Osservatore Romano)

VATICAN CITY  — U.S. Vice President Joe Biden went to the Vatican for a summit on regenerative medicine, where he offered praise to Pope Francis and advocated for a global push to cure cancer.

Biden opened his April 29 speech by recalling how, while visiting the U.S. last September, Pope Francis comforted him for the loss of his eldest son, Beau, who passed away last summer at the age of 46 from brain cancer.

“I wish every grieving parent, brother, sister, mother, father would have the benefit of his words, his prayers, his presence. He provided us with more comfort that even he, I think, will understand,” Biden said, and he voiced his gratitude to the Pope for his time and generosity.

What his family experienced through their tragedy is how faith “can turn loss into hope and hope into action,” the Biden said, noting that Pope Francis “has given hope to so many people in every part of the world with his strong words and humble ways.”

He thanked the participants for their “tenacity” in seeking to find cures and better treatments for rare diseases and cancer and voiced his confidence that “we stand on the cusp of unprecedented scientific and technological change” in the field.

Vice President Biden delivered a 25-minute keynote speech on the second day of an April 28-30 conference at the Vatican entitled “Cellular Horizons: How Science, Technology, Information and Communication Will Impact Society.”

The event gathered together scientists, physicians, patients, religious leaders, philanthropists and government officials to discuss healing options involving different forms of stem-cell therapy specifically using adult stem cells.

The conference is being co-hosted by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the U.S.-based Stem for Life Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in New York that was initially created to promote healing treatments with the use of adult stem cells.

It is the third conference that has been organized in the Vatican on regenerative medicine, the first being in 2011 and the second in 2013.


Biden’s ‘Moonshot’ Campaign

Biden’s presence as a VIP guest of the conference is part of his “Moonshot” campaign to cure cancer, which he announced last October at the same time he said that he would not be running for president. The term “moonshot” is derived from the successful U.S. achievement to place a man on the moon with the Apollo XI spacecraft in 1969.

The vice president’s speech at the Vatican marks the most recent stop on his tour, which has also taken him to Duke University, the University of Pennsylvania and Johns Hopkins University.

In an April 26 news conference on the Vatican summit, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, stressed that Biden’s presence “has no political meaning in the strict sense, but it has a political meaning in a noble sense.”

Biden, who is Catholic, met with Pope Francis briefly after speaking.

The Pope himself delivered his own address after Biden, stressing the need to develop a greater sense of empathy when pursuing treatments for cancer and rare diseases, as well as the need to ensure that all people, including those in developing countries, have access to quality and advanced care.

In his address, Biden noted how there have been “unimaginable breakthroughs” in the fight to cure cancer, even compared to just five years ago.

He pointed to former U.S. President Richard Nixon’s “war on cancer,” which has since boosted investment in scientific research, medical centers and doctors who work tirelessly to slow the spread of cancer.

Different genres of science and medicine are beginning to work together where previously they never have, he said, but noted that there is still more progress to be made.

“Our goal in the U.S. is to do in the next five years what would otherwise take a decade, but that’s the work of all of us,” he said, and he called for “an international commitment” to eliminating cancer and deaths related to the disease.

Top-of-the-line treatments “can’t belong to just the privileged and the powerful; it has to belong to everyone,” he said, as he encouraged both governments and philanthropists to invest in research, data sharing and treatments that improve patient outcome.

Cancer, he said, “is not a national problem; it’s an international problem; it’s a human problem,” and he urged participants to use their intelligence to make things “a little bit better” and to comfort and heal those who are “frightened and in need.”