Vice President Joe Biden has put improved data sharing at the center of a government-led initiative to cure cancer. The plan is to create conditions that usher improved drugs to market by working with tech companies to pull down data silos while boosting the resources available to public and private research teams.
Biden set out his thinking in a blog post to unveil the initiative. "I plan to … break down silos and bring all the cancer fighters together--to work together, share information and end cancer as we know it," he wrote. The VP will look to work with tech experts to achieve this ambition. "Data and technology innovators can play a role in revolutionizing how medical and research data is shared and used to reach new breakthroughs," he wrote. The expectation is that making data more widely available will support an uptick in the rate of improvement in cancer outcomes.
Like in the early days of other big-science programs initiated by the Obama administration, such as the BRAIN Initiative and Personalized Medicine Initiative, the rhetoric is ahead of the reality at this stage. The hard graft of turning an aspirational 800-word blog post into a research program capable of producing meaningful improvements to cancer care is now starting. Biden met this week with researchers at the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine to discuss the initiative. The next stop is Switzerland for the World Economic Forum.
Whether this information-gathering drive helps or hinders research is open to question. Jonathan Gitlin, who worked at the policy office of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) before taking a post at tech publication Ars Technica, said previous big-science initiatives put a strain on NIH. "Colleagues lost weeks of time to planning meetings at a time when we were already understaffed. … All the while, funding rates for NIH grants dropped into the single digits, and labs closed up shop as scientists gave up on their dreams and went to work in more stable careers," he wrote.