Vice President visits catamount country to promote cancer innovation


Kassondra Little

The vice president sat on common ground with UVM medical experts, joined by a single enemy: cancer.

Vice President Joe Biden visited campus Friday to share the principles of the Cancer Moonshot Initiative, as well as to acknowledge the nationally-recognized UVM Cancer Center for its efforts in the fight against the disease.




The Cancer Moonshot Initiative was announced in January by President Obama. It established a one billion dollar nationwide aim to ultimately defeat cancer by increasing innovation for prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

Biden, the leader of the movement, sat on a panel of medical experts and politicians Friday morning, Oct. 21. He, along with Sen. Patrick Leahy and UVM Cancer Center Director Gary Stein, outlined the key objectives in converting cancer from a life-threatening disease to a chronic, manageable and preventable one.

In his opening remarks, Leahy held back emotion as he referenced his wife Marcelle, a cancer survivor. “Cancer touches all of us,” he said.

Leahy’s testament set the tone for the entire event to follow.

He went on to introduce Biden, describing him as a “catalyst” for unity among health care providers. Leahy also added, based on Biden’s proposed solutions, he has “never been so optimistic as we attack this deadly disease.”

Following a standing ovation, Biden outlined the major obstacles in the efforts to treat cancer. “I’m not talking about cures; I’m laying out problems because there are answers,” he said.

On the topic of research data, he said “doctors don’t share well.” Because of this, there is now a $10,000 fine for each day a study or new data is not reported and shared after completion.

Biden then discussed the difficulty in finding clinical trials. A significant aspect of the initiative will be to establish a standard site for patients to search for clinical trials in specific areas, he said.  

His third point then evoked a resounding applause of confirmation.

“We have to have an adult conversation with drug companies about pricing,” Biden said. “We need a real serious conversation and we need it now.”

Later, Sarah Lemnah, the executive director of the Cancer Patient Support Foundation of Vermont and Northern New York, added to Biden’s comments about the cost of cancer.

She discussed how difficult it is for patients to afford treatment in combination with living expenses. Biden sympathized with her and reiterated his push for practical rates.

Biden’s ideas focused on encouraging increased accessibility of care in an effort to improve detection and survival rates.

When Alan Howe, an associate professor of pharmacology at UVM, was asked about the VPOTUS’s visit, he said he thinks Biden is conveying the intellectual environment of cancer better than anyone he has observed in the political field.

Biden’s visit and support of the UVM Cancer Center was welcomed by students and faculty.

Dr. Debra Leonard, the chair of the department of pathology and laboratory medicine, said the VPOTUS’s visit was reassurance that the work of UVM Cancer Center was important, and it was also good for Vermonters to see, because it is proof that compassionate cancer care is here.

“What we do in Vermont is very unique; we are reforming health care,” Leonard said.

Junior Julia Watsky, a nursing student, said, “it’s really exciting because we may be a smaller hospital, but we do so much with cancer research and therapy … I am beginning to see how involved and advanced our hospital is.”

Biden’s closing comments referenced John F. Kennedy.


The sentiment of the event was summed up by the Vice President: “We are on the cusp of breakthroughs that are breathtaking.”

Highlights from of Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot speech

“We have to be unwilling to postpone for another day, what we can do now,” he said.

His words inspired many, like professor Howe, who left feeling rejuvenated and determined.

“I just want to get back to the lab,” Howe said.