Upton, Biden meet to discuss ways to fight cancer

Riley Beggin
The Detroit News

Washington — President Joe Biden met with Michigan Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, and a bipartisan group of members of Congress on Wednesday to discuss pathways to end cancer. 

It's a longstanding point of connection between Upton and the Democratic president, who have worked together to pass legislation that prioritizes research for curing terminal illnesses. 

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) delivers opening remarks during a hearing on Capitol Hill March 1, 2011 in Washington, DC.

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"Cancer is personal for almost everybody. Probably the one word that is the most frightening word in the English language to people, when they hear that C-word, cancer, it is just devastating," Biden told reporters ahead of the Wednesday meeting. 

The group will discuss "how we go about taking advantage of the work they've done to get us where we are today because I think we're on the cusp of some real breakthroughs across the board on cancer," he said.

Biden's son Beau died from brain cancer at age 46 in 2015, while Biden was serving as vice president to then-President Barack Obama. 

Biden and Upton then worked with Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colorado, to pass a $6.3 billion package in 2016 that would fund research on cancer and other diseases, fight the opioid epidemic and expedite government reviews of pharmaceuticals. 

Upton noted that the federal government wouldn't have been able to grant emergency use approval to produce the COVID-19 vaccines if he and DeGette hadn't have passed that legislation. 

"That allowed an expedited procedure under an emergency and allowed the companies themselves to begin to produce the vaccines themselves prior to approval," Upton said.

"His mission now is cancer," the congressman added of Biden. "Let’s see what we can do working together."

Upton and DeGette announced last year they were exploring legislation that would build on the package by increasing federal Food and Drug Administration grants for innovative clinical trials, encourage more diversity in the trials, improve pandemic preparedness and provide educational programs for in-home caregivers. 

Upton said he and DeGette are aiming to have legislative proposal ready by end of next month.

The two lawmakers said they discussed Biden's proposal to create a research agency dedicated to innovations in health when they met Wednesday in the Oval Office.

"The federal government has amazing resources at its disposal to help prevent and cure some of the world’s most devastating diseases," Upton and DeGette said in a joint statement following the meeting with Biden.

"Now is the time to put those resources to use, not only to end this pandemic, but to cure some of the other heartbreaking illnesses that affect millions of Americans every year — including cancer, diabetes, ALS, lupus, Alzheimer’s and so much more."

Upton stresse said he and Biden have had a "strong working relationship" since their collaboration on the 2016 cancer legislation known as the 21st Century Cures Act.

Biden endorsed Upton's opponent, former Democratic state Rep. Jon Hoadley, in his run for Congress last year but frustrated state Democrats when he called Upton "one of the finest guys I've ever worked with" in a speech in Benton Harbor shortly before the 2018 midterm election. 

The 21st Century Cures Act was a major parting victory for Biden as he left the Obama White House in 2016. Described as a "moonshot" effort to cure cancer, the legislation provided a boost in funding for the National Institutes of Health, including $1.8 billion for cancer initiatives. Upton and DeGette traveled the country to drum up public support for the bill. 

Some Senate Democrats raised concerns that the law made it easier for the FDA to quickly approve drugs and medical devices by rolling back certain data requirements on safety and effectiveness. 


Twitter: @rbeggin