ALTIMORE — With limited time left before the 2016 elections, the Obama administration may be hamstrung in what it can do to advance Vice President Joe Biden’s cancer moonshot. But Biden has made clear he also sees hope in philanthropic investments, like a major venture announced Tuesday at Johns Hopkins University.
More than $100 million in private donations will help launch a new institute at the school focused specifically on immunotherapy, the science of activating the human body’s natural immune system to fight cancer.
“I don’t want to leave the impression the federal government is the only answer. It’s not,” Biden said during a 30-minute speech after the announcement. “This is a great example of one of the core elements of the cancer moonshot task force: facilitating cooperation between government, the private sector, academia, and philanthropy.”
The donation to found the Hopkins center is one of the first tangible investments aligned with the cancer initiative. Immunotherapy has been a focus for Biden since the moonshot began with President Obama’s State of the Union address. The vice president held his first public event for the effort at the University of Pennsylvania, which is renowned for its work in the field.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Sidney Kimmel, founder of the Jones Apparel Group, both contributed $50 million to found the institute, which will be called the Kimmel-Bloomberg Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy.
“This institute can be a model for how the public-private partnership can drive progress,” Biden said. “I have no doubt this will be the site of some of the next generation’s breakthroughs in cancer treatment.”
Biden has talked from the beginning about the need for academic researchers, the pharmaceutical industry, and philanthropists to contribute to the moonshot. Part of that emphasis is practical: By the time the initiative was announced, Obama and Biden had less than a year left in office.
And while the president has proposed an additional $755 million in federal funding to expand the research effort, Republicans in Congress have made clear that they won’t simply rubberstamp the request.
Biden isn’t giving up on that proposal — “I predict we will add another billion dollars to cancer research this year,” he said Tuesday — but investments by figures like Bloomberg could help grease the wheels in the interim.
“Over the next 10 years, hopefully five in my view, because of this generous $125 million gift, this institute is going to perfect new therapies,” Biden said, “and help bring hope to millions of patients and their families.”
The funding will primarily be directed toward research and clinical trials, the university said, as well as to recruiting scientists and building new facilities. The institute’s scientists will also have the resources available at the existing Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, which will house the new institute.
Its researchers will concentrate particularly on melanoma, colon, pancreatic, urologic, lung, breast, and ovarian cancers, according to the university. One major priority will be figuring out why some patients respond to immunotherapies while others do not — another regular talking point for Biden on his cancer road tour.
The efforts will be led by Dr. Drew Pardoll, who has been involved in leading immunotherapy research over the past 25 years.
“This moonshot is a true partnership between government, the private sector, and philanthropic organizations,” said Bloomberg, a Johns Hopkins alumnus who has donated more than $1 billion to the school.
He called immunotherapy “the most promising avenue for research today.”
“We have turned a corner,” Bloomberg said, “and a cure is now in sight.”