On Sunday, former Vice President Joe Biden stepped into the spotlight at the SXSW festival, giving a typically enthusiastic Biden speech on all aspects of his new Cancer Moonshot venture. As part of the Moonshot's work, the National Cancer Institute and the University of Chicago previous year launched the Genonic Data Commons, a platform for collecting and storing more than 30,000 cancer patients' genomic datasets.
"Your government - that many of you don't like - is the vehicle for how this gets funded by and large", he said. Jill Biden spoke optimistically about their Cancer Initiative, and Biden stressed the importance of federal funding for cancer research. "It is my hope that this new administration, once it gets organized, " he said, "can be as organized as we were" on taking on cancer.
In many ways, the appearance of Joe Biden at SXSW was an inevitability as he embarks on a new mission in his post-political life: The fight against cancer.
Biden said the idea behind the initiative, created a year ago by former president Barack Obama, stemmed from a conversation as they were heading to the White House Rose Garden in October 2015 to announce that Biden would not be running for president.
Throughout his one-hour speech, Biden laid out a vision for the future, where patients received the right treatment without harmful side effects and children were vaccinated against certain kinds of cancers.
The venue was ideal for presenting his talk, he noted: "South by Southwest has brought together some of the most creative minds in the world", Biden said.
That said, Biden is clearly moving his effort from the government arena and said he is organizing a nonprofit cancer initiative to "finish the work".
Biden referenced President John F. Kennedy's famous space race speech, where he called efforts to the moon something that "we are unwilling to postpone".
"The core of Republicans in the Congress and Democrats are good, decent, honorable people being nearly artificially separated by a new kind of partisanship", Biden said. "Our generation can be the first generation on earth that has a completely different understanding of cancer as a controllable and preventable disease rather than a death sentence". Other times, his voice rose in anger, asking why Facebook engineers could create algorithms that detect suicidal tendency in users but researchers can't come up with a better cancer detection.
"If we did nothing more than break down the silos of preventing greater collaboration because of how the system has been arranged, not intentionally. we could extend the life of a lot of people with cancer", Biden said.
Although Biden chose not to run for president in the 2016 primaries, he commented at the festival he would have liked to have been the nation's leader when the end of cancer as we know it was found.
Biden said that after he shared the news with President Obama, he told him of his only regret. "We can make enormous, enormous, enormous progress", said Biden.