Biden pushes cancer researchers to achieve "moonshot"

Vice President Joe Biden aims to give efforts to cure cancer a jolt during a summit in Washington today that's casting a spotlight on research and innovative trials taking place across the country.

Scientists, oncologists, donors and patients were invited to Howard University for the daylong event, with thousands more participating at related events across the country, the White House said. Comedian Carol Burnett, whose daughter died of cancer, was to introduce Biden and stay to emcee the summit.

By focusing on prevention, early detection, increasing access to treatment and promoting data sharing, Biden hopes to double the speed of cancer research in the next five years.

CBS News medical contributor Dr. David Agus told "CBS This Morning" that although scientists are far from finding a cure for all cancers, they are certainly making progress.

"Forty-five years ago when Nixon declared the war on cancer we had chemotherapy and we had radiation therapy," he said. "Now we have new methods like molecularly targeted therapy, immunotherapy and those really are changing some of the game. We certainly haven't won the war but we're getting better at it." Agus, a professor of medicine and engineering and the head of USC's Westside Cancer Center, is also attending the summit.

For Biden, the summit comes as time is running out to make good on his pledge to double the rate of progress toward a cure before leaving office. After his son, former Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, died of brain cancer last year, the elder Biden announced he wouldn't run for president but would spend his remaining months in office on a cancer "moonshot."

Yet while Biden had hoped to dramatically boost government activity on cancer, his campaign has run up against the same political and bureaucratic hurdles that have challenged other White House priorities. To fund Biden's effort, President Barack Obama asked Congress for $1 billion over two budget years for research. Only a fraction has been approved.

To that end, Biden has sought to use the time he has to highlight private and nonprofit research efforts, while lobbying the country's leading cancer institutions to collaborate more and better use their resources.

"Every cancer patient is being treated and it's an opportunity to collect data, where a cancer patient can be part of a solution, not the problem," Agus said. "With the big advances we've had in computing, computing power, the ability to collect data, we can learn things... With big data, hopefully we're going to make many new observations to allow us to personalize and treat each cancer as an individual instead of by body part."

Greg Simon, the head of Biden's "moonshot," said the government's role is to harness "the power of the people of the country by focusing them on particular problems."

To illustrate what's on the cutting edge for cancer, the Energy Department and the National Cancer Institute planned to announce new programs to analyze cancer data with supercomputers, plus another computing program teaming up with drug maker GlaxoSmithKline to speed up drug development. IBM was to unveil plans to donate its Watson supercomputing technology to help Veterans Affairs ramp up its precision medicine program by sequencing the genomics of tumors for 10,000 patients over two years.

"Those are the types of partnerships that really start to push things forward," IBM Watson Health Vice President Steve Harvey said in an interview. "We kind of need each other in this journey."