Biden, whose 46-year old son Beau Biden died from brain cancer last year, made an emotional speech at a stem cell summit thanking Francis for counselling his family during the pontiff’s visit to the United States.
“I wish every grieving parent, brother, sister, mother, father would have the benefit of his words, his prayer, his presence. He provided us with more comfort than even he, I think, will ever understand,” he said before shaking hands with the pope.
Francis told the summit, which is being hosted by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture and US-based Stem for Life Foundation, it was unacceptable that patients suffering rarer types of cancer or childhood diseases were sidelined “because investing in them is not expected to produce substantial economic returns”.
The US vice president said the search for better cancer treatments was as urgent as the fight against infectious diseases.
“Every day thousands of people are dying, millions are desperately looking for hope for another day, another month, another year. One more hug, one more kiss.”
Biden, who recalled the moment in the White House Rose Garden when he told President Barack Obama he would not be pursuing any further political ambitions in order to help galvanise cancer research, said he was “calling for an international commitment”.
– ‘Not just privileged, powerful’ –
The focus should be on “access and affordability”, he said adding that the “best treatment must be for everyone, not just the privileged and powerful”.
He unveiled a three-point plan, ranging from prevention to treating cancer as urgently as other diseases and increasing data sharing.
“We need a public and private partnership to make a quantum leap. Our goal is to do in five years what otherwise would take a decade,” Biden said.
“In the US alone we lose more than 3,000 people a day to cancer.”
The world could expect 20 million new cancer cases by 2025, and 11.4 additional million cancer deaths, he warned.
The international response to cancer “should reflect the same urgency we bring to infectious disease threats. We should be sharing data the moment it is published, immediately, not hiding it behind pay-walls that prevent information from being shared,” he added.
Biden said he had already been contacted by a number of world leaders “who want to collaborate on ending cancer as we know it”, including the heads of Israel, Japan and South Korea.
– ‘Faith, hope, action’ –
Biden, a Catholic, told scientists, physicians, patients and their families gathered for the April 28-30 meeting, that religion was not only playing a key role in advancing research into adult stem cell therapies but helped researchers remember what they were striving for.
“Standing on the cusp of unprecedented scientific change, unimagined breakthroughs, we cannot forget people are the real reason for what we do. There is always a loved one in pain, sustaining all hope for a cure,” he said.
“Everyone here understands… how faith can turn loss into hope, and hope into action.”
After the speech Biden met Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s number two man, for talks on the persecution of Christians in the Middle East — particularly at the hands of the Islamic State group — and the need for a negotiated solution in the Syria conflict.
He then met Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi for a closed-door discussion.
Source: Vatican City (AFP)