“I’m Joe Biden, and I’m Jill Biden’s husband.”
That’s how former Vice President Joe Biden opened his keynote address after his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, briefly introduced him. And though being a husband to Jill is certainly an achievement worth bragging about, Biden can claim other noteworthy titles: the forty-seventh vice president of the United States, longtime U.S. senator, and—as he emphasized on Sunday at South by Southwest—a cancer crusader.
After his son Beau died of brain cancer in 2015, Biden developed a deeply personal vendetta against cancer. “The passion Jill and I have is driven by the desire to spare families the experience that our family and many other families have gone through,” Biden explained. The former vice president brought that fire to his SXSW speech on his “cancer moonshot” initiative, enlisting the diverse crowd to help him in his mission to eradicate cancer once and for all.
The vice president emphasized time and time again his belief that collaboration could be the key to unlocking new cancer treatments. After spending a year visiting cancer centers around the world, Biden noted that there was no simple way to share the research from one institution to another. And that’s where the SXSW crowd came in. Biden called on people outside of the medical field to come up with solutions to make cancer research more available, noting that Amazon had donated cloud space to help researchers upload and share data. He called cross-discipline collaboration a “new hope” in the fight against cancer.
Biden, who is known for his loose tongue and off-the-cuff remarks, managed to resist wading into the current political climate. Sort of. He made a couple of brief jabs at President Donald Trump, noting that “a government that many of you don’t like” controls a lot of the funding for cancer research. But, Biden said, he is eager to work with the new administration on his initiative.
“The only bipartisan thing left in America is the fight against cancer,” Biden said, explaining that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell played a key role in securing more funding for cancer research when Biden was still vice president.
He also addressed a question that loomed over the last election: what happened to his possible run for the Democratic nomination? “I would’ve loved to have been the president who presided over the end of cancer as we know it,” he recalled telling President Barack Obama. But, as he put it, he didn’t have the stomach to run for the presidency after Beau’s death. “No one should ever run for president of the United States unless they are prepared to give every, every ounce of their energy,” Biden said.
If he had any regrets about his path, though, he didn’t let on to them. For now, Biden seems comfortable in his latest role as an advocate for a cure.