Joe Biden recalled the advice his father gave him as a child, stating it twice: “If everything is important to you, nothing is important to you.”
The former vice president was addressing a national gathering at the UN November 3 that brought together cancer experts, policymakers, diplomats, UN supporters, and leaders of academia and business. He was there with Elsevier Chairman Youngsuk “YS” Chi to accept Humanitarian of the Year awards from the United Nations Association of New York (UNA-NY). Biden was recognized for his efforts in leading the Cancer Moonshot initiative, which has resulted in new programs and multidisciplinary collaborations to improve cancer research and care, while Chi was recognized for Elsevier’s support for the initiative.
The annual UNA-NY award ceremony honors individuals and corporations for their global leadership in advancing UN causes.” In introducing the evening’s honorees, UNA-NY President Abid Qureshi spoke of “the disease that Vice President Joe Biden and Elsevier have done so much to impact.”
Mr. Biden’s Cancer Moonshot initiative had as one of its objectives to improve cancer care for underserved groups, including minorities, women and children. And Elsevier contributed to this initiative in numerous ways, including by providing free access to data and other resources to support cancer research. Elsevier’s support of the Moonshot initiative illustrated precisely the type of public-private sector partnership that we at UNA-New York like to encourage as absolutely vital to assist the United Nations in achieving its public health-related sustainable development goals.
In accepting his award, Biden spoke humbly and intimately about a topic he has focused on ever since brain cancer took the life of his son Beau Biden at age 46.
He praised the experts on the Lancet Oncology Commission for the report they just released, which presents a detailed roadmap to deliver on the Cancer Moonshot’s Blue Ribbon Panel recommendations. And he recognized Elsevier for analyzing a vast quantity of information to hone in on the most impactful research to pursue.
With more than 200 types of cancer and an exponential increase in scientific and medical data, it’s crucial to determine which research to focus on, Biden explained. In forming the Blue Ribbon Panel, “we were determined … to make sure that we had the best minds in the country and mined the best minds in the world” to answer the question: “Where are the most immediate, biggest payoffs possible?” The key was to turn the panel’s recommendations into “doable, bite-sized” components whose impact could be measured, he said:
I want to thank Elsevier for focusing on drilling down and making sure we had this blueprint. ... My dad was right – it matters what the priorities are. And so it came to full fruition tonight with what you guys did in taking this down to very usable information.
Making information “usable” is at the heart of what we do at Elsevier, an information analytics provider specializing in science and health. In our Research Intelligence group, colleagues work with governments and research institutions worldwide to help them establish a competitive research strategy and evaluate their performance and impact. Our Analytical Services team creates reports on the global research landscape to advise policymakers on key topics, from sustainability science and gender diversity to cancer research trends and disaster science. Across the business, our technologists use machine learning and neurolinguistic programming to make our content “actionable” so researchers and clinicians can find answers quickly rather than having to pour through whole articles.
The work involves applying expertise in data science and bibliometrics to vast quantities of high-quality data, including the peer-reviewed research we publish, while working closely with our users to understand their needs. Beyond that, it’s about encouraging and enabling data sharing and collaboration across disciplines – areas Biden spoke passionately about. “Oncologists … are now routinely working closely with immunotherapists and virologists and geneticists and chemical and biological engineers in ways that just weren’t happening six, seven, eight years ago,” he pointed out.
The report recognized at this event — The Lancet Oncology Commission: Future Research Priorities in the USA — is authored by over 50 leading oncologists, including members of major US cancer organizations. It sets out 13 priority areas, each with measurable goals, to focus the $2 billion of funding released to the National Cancer Institute as part of the 21st Century Cures Act. Recommendations include focusing on prevention, a new model for drug discovery and development, a vast expansion of patient access to clinical trials, and an emphasis on targeted interventions to improve cancer care for underserved groups, specifically children, cancer survivors and minority groups.
Biden said he expects the recommendations to have an impact in the near future:
The work proposed by this distinguished commission … should bring hope, and I believe will bring hope, to millions of people around the world as they receive cancer diagnoses this year. Probably the most dreaded word in any language is cancer; you have other diagnoses that could be more life-threatening at the moment, but there’s nothing like the word cancer. But I believe you’re going to see effective treatments flow from these recommendations much sooner than anyone anticipated. Together I think we’re making a great deal of progress.
Dr. David Collingridge, Editor-in-Chief of The Lancet Oncology, pointed out that the Lancet Oncology Commission grew out of the Cancer Moonshot initiative, which aims to make 10 years of progress in just 5 years. To accomplish that, he said, the Commission has been “looking at the most impactful cancer research avenues and health systems reforms to really make the substantial step forward in our understanding of the disease and the way in which we practice oncology.”
While Biden spoke of the need to “inject a new sense of urgency … into this cancer fight,” Chi talked about why this is an ideal time to make rapid progress.
“We are in the midst of a technological revolution that is providing new insights into human biology and cancer,” said Chi, who accepted the humanitarian award on behalf of Elsevier and the Lancet Oncology Commission. “In this era of big data, we are amassing large amounts of information that is transforming how we approach cancer treatment and prevention.”
Despite this progress, however, Chi acknowledged that we still have a long way to go:
Although we hope that our contributions this past year have played some part in unearthing valuable insights and provoking strategic action, we recognize that there is so much more to be done – and not just in the battle against cancer but also across all sustainability challenges. And that is why Elsevier and (our parent company) RELX Group have a longterm commitment to advancing all 17 of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, from health to gender equality and climate action.
In introducing Chi, Elsevier Publisher Dr. Lily Khidr spoke of his commitment to research and technology and his passion for building relationships. “He consistently steers the organization in a direction that embraces the challenges that inevitably occur, and implements the technology required to efficiently and effectively overcome those challenges successfully,” she said.
Dr. Khidr has followed a similar path in her own work, focusing on global partnerships after transitioning from cancer research to publishing. She has been involved with the UNA-NY since 2012, where she began to engage with leaders committed to meeting the UN’s Millenium and Sustainable Development Goals.
When President Obama launched the Cancer Moonshot initiative in 2016, she liaised with the White House as Elsevier prepared a benchmark report on the landscape of cancer research in the US in support of the Moonshot, launching it at the Cancer Moonshot Summit, hosted by VP Biden.
Like many people in the audience, Dr. Khidr has had a personal experience with cancer. She was inspired to go into cancer research after losing her sister to brain cancer. But she didn’t speak about her own experience at the event, instead conveying a sentiment expressed by many involved in the Cancer Moonshot, including the vice president.
Many of us share a personal story, whether it be our own struggle or the loss of a family member or friend – and to be able to take that pain and transform it into growth, and thereby progress, is truly one of life’s greatest achievements.