Biden Begs Researchers to Collaborate on Cancer Cure

Vice President Joe Biden

Vice President Joe Biden Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

Siloed data is a major roadblock to cancer research, Vice President Joe Biden said in Washington on Monday.

Vice President Joe Biden has a message to cancer researchers: hoarding patient data is getting in the way of finding a cure.

Almost a year after his son’s death from a brain tumor, and months after announcing his leadership of the Cancer Moonshot Task Force, Biden implored a ballroom packed with data enthusiasts to help with the $1 billion effort to double the pace of cancer research.

“There’s a load, an enormous amount of data out there, but not readily available,” Biden said in Washington on Monday. “Imagine what we could do -- you could do, to help in the fight against cancer if you had access to the millions of cancer pathologies, genomic sequences, family histories and treatment outcomes. Imagine if you had the complete health information in a privacy protected way.”

The Cancer Moonshot Task Force plans to make its own direct investments in cancer research but also work with the private sector on their initiatives. Biden said processing large amounts of patient data, using big data analysis, machine learning and high-performance computing, could help researchers uncover patterns in cancer’s progress.

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But today, “different technology systems can’t talk to each other," he said. "Most major cancer centers don’t have an easy way and, in many cases, the motivation to share data including patient records, test results, family histories and treatment responses. We’ve got to change this."

Research publications, for instance, are generally kept behind paywalls. He rebuked a New England Journal of Medicine editorial published early this year that warned that sharing data might breed data “parasites,” who use other researchers’ data for their own purposes.

“God forbid,” Biden quipped.

Tech entrepreneurs have put other publicly available health data, such as emergency room admittance, to use in apps including one that guides ambulances based on wait times. Biden asked the audience why such ingenuity wasn’t being applied widely to cancer-related problems.

“I desperately need your input,” he said.