Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday he’s confident Congress will approve the $1 billion the president requested for cancer research and help pave the way toward cures for all types of cancer — a goal scientists say could be reached by using patients’ immune systems to destroy cancer cells.
Biden spoke at the launch of a new immunotherapy institute at Johns Hopkins University funded by $125 million in donations from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, philanthropist Sidney Kimmel and others.
“I’m convinced not only will we save millions of lives but we will once again re-instill in the American public the attitude, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, that anything — anything — is possible,” Biden told a gathering of Hopkins researchers and medical students, plus elected officials including Gov. Larry Hogan, a cancer survivor.
The vice president, whose son Beau died from brain cancer in May, is leading the administration’s effort to accelerate the quest for cancer cures, which President Barack Obama has likened to a manned mission to the moon. Obama is requesting $755 million in addition to the $195 million in new cancer funding Congress approved in its budget deal late last year.
“I predict we will add another billion dollars to cancer research this year,” Biden said. “It’s the one thing that there’s overwhelming domestic consensus about, crossing party lines.”
He said the funds, together with the $125 million in private donations, would boost research at Hopkins’ new Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy. School officials said the donations include $50 million each from Bloomberg, a 1964 Hopkins graduate, and Kimmel, founder of Jones Apparel Group, plus a total of $25 million from more than a dozen other supporters.
For comparison, the American Cancer Society spends about $150 million a year on all types of cancer research, said Dr. Otis Brawley, the society’s chief medical officer.
“So $125 million for immunotherapy is huge,” he said in a telephone interview.
Bloomberg, who also spoke at the event, said ending all cancers would rank among humanity’s highest achievements.
“A cure won’t come overnight, but there’s never been more reason to hope that we have turned a corner and a cure is in sight,” he said.
The new donations to Hopkins will be used mainly to fund research, with a focus on melanoma, colon, pancreatic, urologic, lung, breast and ovarian cancers, the school said in a statement. The funds also will enable the school to recruit more scientists and invest in technology development.
The institute’s co-directors, Dr. Drew Pardoll and Dr. Elizabeth Jaffee, said immunotherapy holds potential for curing all types of cancer. Jaffee said the technique has been effective against melanoma, lung cancer and some renal and colon cancers — comprising about 25 percent of cancer cases.
“We still need to figure out what are the problems for why the immunes system does not see the other 75 percent,” she said.
An immunotherapy drug, Keytruda, was credited with helping former President Jimmy Carter’s cancer remission after he was diagnosed with melanoma. In December, Carter, announced that doctors had found no evidence of the four lesions discovered on his brain last summer and no signs of new cancer growth.
In a study published last May, Dr. Julie Brahmer of Johns Hopkins reported for the first time that an immunotherapy drug, Opdivo, may improve survival for the most common form of lung cancer. Tumors shrank in almost 20 percent of Opdivo patients versus about 12 percent of the others, her study found.