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Scientists gather in D.C. for Biden cancer summit

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WASHINGTON — Vice President Joe Biden will try to give efforts to cure cancer a jolt during a summit in Washington today that’s casting a spotlight on research and innovative trials taking place across the country.

Scientists, oncologists, donors and patients are gathering at Howard University for the daylong event, with thousands more participating at related events across the country, the White House said. Comedian Carol Burnett, whose daughter died of cancer, will introduce Biden, and she will stay to emcee the summit.

For Biden, the conference comes as time is running out to make good on his pledge to double the rate of progress toward a cure before leaving office. After his son, former Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, died of brain cancer last year, the elder Biden announced he wouldn’t run for president but would spend his remaining months in office on a cancer “moonshot.”

Yet while Biden had hoped to dramatically boost government activity on cancer, his campaign has run up against the same political and bureaucratic hurdles that have challenged other White House priorities. To fund Biden’s effort, President Barack Obama asked Congress for $1 billion over two budget years for research. Only a fraction has been approved.

To that end, Biden has sought to use the time he has to highlight private and nonprofit research efforts, while lobbying the country’s leading cancer institutions to collaborate more and better use their resources. Greg Simon, the head of Biden’s “moonshot,” said the government’s role is to harness “the power of the people of the country by focusing them on particular problems.”

To illustrate what’s on the cutting edge for cancer, the Energy Department and the National Cancer Institute planned to announce new programs to analyze cancer data with supercomputers, plus another computing program teaming up with drug maker GlaxoSmithKline to speed up drug development. IBM was to unveil plans to donate its Watson supercomputing technology to help Veterans Affairs ramp up its precision medicine program by sequencing the genomics of tumors for 10,000 patients over two years.

“Those are the types of partnerships that really start to push things forward,” IBM Watson Health Vice President Steve Harvey said in an interview. “We kind of need each other in this journey.”

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