AN FRANCISCO — Vice President Joe Biden on Monday told a packed ballroom of biopharma investors and executives that after leaving the White House he plans to push their industry to make drugs affordable for patients.
“We’re going to convene a national conversation with pharmaceutical companies— many of you who are here … biotech companies and others — to ensure patients can afford treatments,” Biden said. “Too many Americans are forced to sell their homes, to go into bankruptcy, so their loved ones can get care and hope for a cure. This needs to change while still not undermining the profit motive making sure there’s a genuine reward for effort.”
He spoke at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, which draws thousands of industry professionals from around the world.
Biden’s remarks echoed comments he had made to the Washington Post last week about plans to work on drug prices, among other issues, when he launches a new organization to continue the work of his cancer moonshot.
Biden emphasized that he will continue to work after he leaves office to break down the bureaucratic and cultural barriers that he believes impede scientific progress. That goal has been the centerpiece of many of Biden’s speeches about his cancer moonshot, launched in October 2015 after he lost his eldest son, Beau, to brain cancer.
“The culture of medicine, in my humble opinion, literally has to change, to comport with the times. The culture of cancer research has to change,” Biden said.
Biden said he hoped the Trump administration would continue the initiative, which received more than $1 billion in funding from Congress late last year. Going forward, Biden said more focus should be placed on preventing cancer and on getting more patients enrolled in clinical trials.
The vice president said he’ll create an organization — tentatively called the Biden Cancer Initiative — to continue the moonshot’s goals. It will work to improve data sharing and will team up with drug companies and health insurers to make cancer treatments more affordable, he said.
One proposed focus for the new organization: improving access to care across geographic and economic lines. “We’re also going to be in a position where in this new effort where we will be working with community care organizations to help improve access and care equality so outcomes aren’t wholly dictated by your ZIP code,” Biden said.
As he often has over the last 15 months, Biden portrayed his future role as an almost political one: forging coalitions and getting disparate groups to work together. He’s not a scientist, he frequently says, but he does understand politics.
He also remarked on some of the skepticism that has greeted his moonshot, including the notion that it is a retread of the failed Nixon-era quest to defeat cancer. “I almost wish we hadn’t called it the moonshot,” he said.
But toward the end of the speech he reaffirmed the name. He evoked John F. Kennedy’s famous words about putting a man on the moon as a challenge the nation “is unwilling to postpone.”
Today, he said, defeating cancer is a challenge the nation is “unwilling to postpone any longer.”