The Biden Cancer Summit: Finding Keys to Unlock Cancer Breakthroughs

Recently, thousands of people convened in Washington, DC, and across 450 communities nationwide for the Biden Cancer Summit, to build on former Vice President Joe Biden and Jill Biden’s commitment to ending cancer as we know it.

Carol Brown, MD, FACOG, FACS, Director of the Office of Diversity Programs in Clinical Care, Research, and Training at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK), is on the board of directors for the Biden Cancer Initiative, and she served on two sessions at the Washington event. The first was a salon-style discussion, “Changing the Culture of Cancer Care and Research.” Dr. Brown also participated in the town hall meeting with Mr. Biden and others to address advances in prevention, early detection, and diagnosis. Also, at the event in Washington, DC, MSK’s Janet McKiernan RN, NP, was awarded the Biden Cancer Initiative FIERCE Award. The FIERCE Awards recognize and celebrate those making a transformative impact on the lives of cancer patients. Janet was recognized for implementing screening and early detection initiatives to prevent head and neck cancer over the course of more than four decades. 

In addition to Dr. Brown’s leading voice inside the Beltway that day, MSK hosted a simultaneous community event in New York City, in partnership with SHARE, a nonprofit supporting women affected by breast and ovarian cancer, with a focus on medically underserved communities. People with cancer, doctors, nurses, caregivers, and community members came together to examine the value of cancer clinical trials and raise critical questions around participating in such studies. Clinical trials are a crucial step in the path toward accelerating new treatments and can help provide the best possible care to people with cancer, yet misinformation and hesitation around participation in these trials is an ongoing issue. The community event sought to educate people on the importance of these trials and the benefits that can come from participation.

Among the speakers was Victoria Blinder, MD, a medical oncologist at MSK who treats people with breast cancer. Her presentation offered clear explanations of what a clinical trial is and what each phase of a clinical trial means. Paul Sabbatini, MD, Deputy Physician-in-Chief for Clinical Research at MSK, was on hand to field dozens of specific questions about clinical trials from the audience before focusing the group’s attention on large screens so everyone could watch Mr. Biden deliver his concluding speech at the summit.

Attendees also heard inspiring remarks from a multicultural panel expressing both gratitude and frustration surrounding their own participation in cancer clinical trials. While including people from different racial and ethnic groups can help researchers determine whether results can be generalized to the broader public, ethnic minorities are severely underrepresented in clinical trials. Unfortunately, participation in clinical trials by black and Hispanic people with cancer has declined over the past two decades. The moving discussion concluded with a person who said, “There is no bigger job in the world than saving your own life — give yourself every tool you can.”