Progress and Promise Against Cancer: A Biden Cancer Community Summit

On Friday, September 21, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR affiliate, hosted Progress and Promise Against Cancer: A Biden Cancer Community Summit with special guest Dr. Jill Biden. In conjunction with the Biden Cancer Initiative, which convened a national Summit in Washington, D.C., the Philadelphia event was one of approximately 450 events that took place throughout the U.S.

As the largest Summit in Philadelphia, Progress and Promise Against Cancer brought together some of the greatest minds in cancer research from the region to educate the public on the latest advances in cancer research spanning prevention, treatment, and survivorship. Attendees also heard from patient advocates who shared their own cancer experiences.

The first session highlighted the experience of Tori Lee, a pediatric leukemia survivor who was treated with CAR-T cell therapy, and whose story was featured in the AACR Cancer Progress Report 2018. Maiken Scott, host of WHYY’s “The Pulse,” then spoke with Tori’s oncologist, Stephan Grupp, MD, PhD, director of translational research at the Center for Childhood Cancer Research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Dr. Grupp shared how patients like Tori contribute to the understanding of how the body’s immune system can be harnessed to fight cancer.

Next, attendees heard from Robert Vonderheide, MD, director of Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center, and Dario Altieri, MD, president and CEO at The Wistar Institute during a fireside chat titled “From Basic Science to FDA Approval.” Both spoke about how much work, dedication, and research is needed to bring new treatments to the clinic, where they can make a difference in the lives of patients.

Local patient advocates were also on hand to share their stories. Radio personality Frankie Darcell shared how patients can find their voice during their experiences with cancer, and AACR Ambassador Sarah Happy spoke about the concept of survivorship, and life beyond cancer.

To educate the community on cancer prevention, the next session featured Mary Daly, MD, PhD, director of the Risk Assessment Program at Fox Chase Cancer Center, and Ana Maria Lopez, MD, vice chair of medical oncology at Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson Health, During a fireside chat with WHYY’s Taunya English, both scientists encouraged attendees to learn their family health history and make sure to get appropriate cancer screenings.

The final expert session looked into the future of cancer research. WHYY host and producer Shirley Min spoke to Edith Mitchell, MD, director of the Center to Eliminate Cancer Disparities at Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson Health, about her experience as a member of the Cancer Moonshot Initiative Blue Ribbon Panel and how initiatives that encourage collaboration and information sharing can make a difference in the lives of all patients.

The keynote speaker, Dr. Jill Biden, then shared her own experience with cancer in her family, including the loss of her stepson, Beau, to glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer, in 2015. Beau’s death spurred her and Vice President Joe Biden to launch the Biden Cancer Initiative, a mission to accelerate progress in cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis, research, and care. She thanked researchers for their work, and recognized patients and survivors for their courage and hope, while continuing to encourage everyone to “fight for the most precious thing we have: time.”

To conclude the discussion, Vice President Joe Biden spoke during a livestreamed talk shared with Summit audiences throughout the country. He applauded a wave of recent initiatives that could potentially ease burdens for cancer patients – for example, Uber and Lyft donating rides to cancer patients, and Angel Flight West donating flights to patients traveling for treatments. He said such efforts could be pivotal in helping all patients, no matter their race, hometown, or socioeconomic status, receive the best possible cancer care.