The Biden Cancer Initiative, the nonprofit former Vice President Joe Biden started two years ago after leaving the White House, is shutting down, at least for now.
Greg Simon, the organization’s president, said in a statement it was suspending activities because of “our unique circumstances.” He added: “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.”
Those unique circumstances: Biden is currently the top-polling Democratic candidate for the nomination of the Democratic Party in the 2020 presidential election. Last month, the Associated Press raised concerns as to whether the Biden Cancer Initiative’s connections with for-profit health care companies would pose ethical issues for a Biden administration. The AP cited concerns from Arthur Caplan, a prominent New York University bioethicist, who said that a “Biden administration would give favorable treatment for anyone who supported his foundation in the past.”
Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, had already stepped down from the organization’s board.
The Biden Cancer Initiative grew out of the White House cancer moonshot, a program created by President Obama and led by Biden. Biden’s son Beau died of glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer, in May 2015. The cancer moonshot was unveiled later that year with the goal of speeding up the development of new treatments. When Biden declined to seek the presidency ahead of the 2016 election, he cited his dream of presiding over a revolution in cancer treatment as one of the biggest opportunities he would miss pursuing.
“If I could be anything, I would have wanted to be the president that ended cancer,” he said in a Rose Garden address in October 2015. “Because it’s possible.”
The Biden Cancer Initiative used Biden’s powerful personal brand to convene researchers and for-profit companies and to incentivize them to work together and take new steps for cancer patients. One conference sponsored by the initiative last year featured presentations not only by patient advocates, researchers, and pharmaceutical company executives, but also by Airbnb, which had a program to allow people to offer their homes to cancer patients traveling for treatment, and Lyft, which said it would help patients get to cancer treatment centers.
Biden’s cancer efforts could prove a liability for other reasons, too. While at times Biden has admonished drug companies for the high price of some cancer treatments, the initiative focused on fostering cutting-edge research rather than reducing pharmaceutical prices. Two of Biden’s chief rivals for the nomination, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), are the authors of two of the most aggressive proposals to lower drug prices currently before Congress. At the first Democratic debate last month, those candidates and several others escalated their attacks on the drug industry, fixating on high prices and Trump’s failure to lower drug costs.
Also last month, both Biden and President Trump were criticized for promising to “cure” cancer following a 2020 victory, with many patient advocates and cancer researchers calling the pledge simplistic and unachievable.
The Biden Cancer Initiative announcement came the same day that Biden was set to unveil a detailed health care platform at a speech in Iowa. On his campaign website, Biden released a series of proposals that includes limiting launch prices for single-source drugs, permitting personal drug importation from other countries, allowing Medicare to negotiate with manufacturers for drug prices, and banning drug price increases at a rate exceeding inflation.