ROME— Pope Francis has called for an increase in funding for research to find cures to rare diseases, saying there’s a need for an “increased sensitivity” towards those suffering from those illnesses, while also calling for “universal access to treatment.”
“Research, whether in academia or industry, requires unwavering attention to moral issues if it is to be an instrument which safeguards human life and the dignity of the person,” Francis said on Thursday.
“Formation and research, therefore, aspire to serve higher values, such as solidarity, generosity, magnanimity, sharing of knowledge, respect for human life, and fraternal and selfless love,” he said.
The pope gave his remarks as he was addressing a third Vatican-sponsored on therapies using adult stem cells, which was focused this time around on the search for cures to cancer, diabetes, and rare children deceases.
Among the VIPs attending the April 28-30 conference was U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, who addressed the group right before Francis, but without the pope being present.
During his improvised remarks, Biden, who lost his son Beau to brain cancer, thanked Francis for the personal time the two shared while the pope was visiting the United States last September.
As the pontiff was leaving, Biden escorted him to the aircraft in Philadelphia, and he said the two of them, together with Biden’s extended family, shared some private moments. The Vice President said on Thursday that the pope “provided us with more comfort that I believe even he would be able to understand.”
“I wish every grieving parent, brother, and sister, would have the benefit of his words, prayers, presence,” he said.
Biden, a Catholic, also mentioned his surprise overnight stop in Iraq on his way to Rome, saying that when he told Shiite, Sunni, and Kurd leaders in Erbil and Bagdad that he was coming to the Vatican, they too wanted to talk about Francis.
“I think that’s a pretty incredible thing,” he said.
In recent months Biden has engaged in a campaign known as Cancer Moonshot 2020, that aims to find a cure for cancer, through a vaccine “to be injected like a flu shot”, in the next decade. The Obama administration asked Congress to devote $1 billion to double the rate of progress toward a cancer cure this year.
During his off-the-cuff remarks, Biden said that even though “we’re not suggesting the U.S. has all the answers,” the nation is making an appeal for other developed countries to commit to do more in the fight against cancer.
He spoke of his decision to dedicate himself to this work last October, when he announced he wasn’t going to run for the U.S. presidency. Biden said that his “one regret” is not having the opportunity to be president to “preside over a fundamental change in the effort to cure and/or to turn some cancers into chronic deceases.”
The Vice President also called for an international response that brings the same urgency to cancer that is brought to infectious diseases, such as HIV. Among the things he proposed were the sharing and standardization of information and universal access to treatment, saying it “can’t belong only to the powerful.”
Becoming visibly emotional, Biden insisted: “[Information] should be made available to the public immediately! Why do you wait? Why, what’s the rationale?”
“We’re here in this sacred place as a reminder that it’s within us [to do more].”
Religion, he said, taught him about faith, hope and love, and said the scientists, doctors, philanthropists, embody all three.
Biden met with Francis for a few minutes before the pope’s remarks, and he was scheduled for an official meeting with the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, early in the afternoon Rome time.
The event was organized by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture and the U.S.-based Stem for Life Foundation, a non-profit based in New York originally created to foster treatments based on the use of adult cells.
Doctor Grant McArthur, from Australia, was part of a panel Friday morning on “Combination Therapies for Cancer”, which includes several innovative therapies, including a universal vaccine to cure cancer by 2020.
McArthur captured in a way the main points the conference is seeking to make:
Innovation is needed to cure cancer, diabetes and rare deceases.
Clinical trials are slow, expensive, and they don’t always show positive results.
“We have to make these therapies available worldwide, to all places, including developing countries that can’t afford treatments.”
This last point was something both Francis and Biden stressed during their remarks.
Quoting his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Francis highlighted the value of human progress in health care, while at the same time emphasizing “the need to oppose and economy of exclusion and inequality that victimizes people when the mechanism of profit prevails over the value of human life.”
“This is why the globalization of indifference must be countered by the globalization of empathy,” he said.
Biden had a similar approach, saying that “cancer is not a national problem, it’s an international problem, it’s a human problem. It affects the rich, the poor, all races, all religions, and those with no religion. It knows no limits, and has no boundaries.”
“It’s all about possibilities,” he said closing his 30-minute address, which ended with a quote from Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard: “Faith sees best in the dark. I have faith.”