Data sharing will open up new possibilities for collaboration in the fight to find a cure for cancer, Vice President Joe Biden said Monday.
Biden unveiled the Genomic Data Commons during a speech at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting in Chicago.
“This is a significant step forward,” Biden said.
Earlier in the day, Biden publicly announced the project — which will promote sharing genomic and clinical data between cancer researchers — at the University of Chicago.
“Imagine if you all worked together,” Biden said about the fight against cancer at the ASCO conference, one of the largest gatherings of cancer specialists in the world. “We need teams of scientists — and also teams of organizations.”
The National Cancer Institute’s GDC is a next-generation public data platform for storing, sharing and analyzing raw genomic and associated clinical data on cancer. It centralizes and standardizes information on an interactive and searchable system built and operated by the U of C.
The GDC is part of The White House’s cancer “moonshot” initiative, announced by President Barack Obama in his State of the Union speech Jan. 12, which seeks to expedite efforts to find a cure for the disease.
In his speech at the conference, Biden stressed that accelerating progress in fighting cancer requires breaking down barriers, whether between individual research groups or between industry and academia.
“I need your help,” the vice president said. “We can do much better than we’re doing.”
The administration has asked for nearly $1 billion for the “moonshot” through fiscal year 2017. At ASCO, Biden called for billions more to be committed to the initiative and said he wants to double the national rate of progress toward curing cancer, a White House goal from the start.
“Not only is there international consensus, this is the only bipartisan thing left in America right now,” Biden told the audience to applause.
The GDC, which is intended to make reams of research data freely accessible, initially is putting together NCI data from The Cancer Genome Atlas and its pediatric equivalent, information on more than 10,000 cancer patients and their tumors.
Biden encouraged researchers at ASCO to contribute their own data.
“We expect people who benefit from it to share back,” he said.
But the vice president had a stick to go with his carrot, saying that all information from clinical trials funded by the NCI will have to be submitted to the database.
Biden is in charge of the cancer “moonshot” task force at the White House, which includes the heads of a slew of federal departments and agencies.
His oldest son, Joseph “Beau” Biden battled brain cancer for several years. The former attorney general of Delaware died in May 2015.
“I had a son at a great cancer hospital who was in pretty tough shape. At the end of the day he became a clinical trial of one. What about the 96 percent of the people out there with cancer who’d benefit? There’s got to be a better way,” the vice president said at Monday’s conference as he called for broader access to clinical trials.
The administration’s cancer initiative has raised concerns from some over privacy issues.
On Monday, Biden sought to allay those concerns — especially regarding the GDC — but without offering specifics.
“Genomic Data Commons has built important safeguards to protect patient privacy, enable and secure data downloading and provide for your no liability,” he said.
Biden said that the GDC will begin compiling larger and larger amounts of data on genes and clinical outcomes to speed up the push for a cancer cure.
“It’s the quickest way for us to move forward. And it’s not technically hard to do it,” he said.
Overall, the administration’s cancer initiative also involves pooling knowledge and encouraging collaboration in the areas of vaccine development, early cancer detection, immunotherapy, genomic profiling and pediatric cancer. The effort includes an Oncology Center of Excellence at the Food and Drug Administration and a cancer research fund that will award grants next year.
“The whole world is looking to you,” Biden said to the doctors and researchers at ASCO. “Your success can literally change the world.”