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VP Joe Biden urges health startups to help fight cancer

Veep's surprise visit to SF to discuss battling cancer at conference comes as Trump wants to dump Obamacare.

US Vice President Joe Biden is making a heartfelt pitch to the health startup community: He needs its help to fight cancer.

"There's an urgent need to continue this momentum, that's why I came to you, I really do mean this. This is too deadly important," he told a standing room-only crowd of more than 300 people during an intimate, unannounced visit Monday at a San Francisco festival sponsored by StartUp Health, a health tech accelerator.


US Vice President Joe Biden is urging the health startup community to share its resources to find a cure for cancer.

Terry Collins/CNET

With smartphone cameras flashing inside a cramped cafe, Biden spoke about his Cancer Moonshot initiative he was asked to spearhead by President Barack Obama during the 2016 State of the Union address. Biden's task is to help find strategies, including more research and funding from the government and private sector to combat cancer.

Biden's eldest son and former Delaware Attorney General Beau died of brain cancer in May 2015, less than two years after he was diagnosed. Biden was introduced Monday by his son-in-law, Dr. Howard Krein, a reconstructive surgeon for cancer patients in Philadelphia and the chief medical officer for the StartUp Health, which has 10 moonshot health initiatives -- including ending cancer -- and long-­term goal of improving health worldwide.

The vice president's plea comes as US President-elect Donald Trump is planning to issue executive orders to a Republican-controlled Congress to "immediately repeal and replace Obamacare," also known as the Affordable Care Act as one of his top priorities as soon as he moves into the White House.

Meanwhile, Biden and President Obama are spending the last days of their two-term administration rallying lawmakers to help save Obama's historic health care law. More than 20 million Americans have health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

"Medicine is changing, health care is changing," Krein said, adding that StartUp Health has nearly 200 companies participating companies across 16 countries on five continents demanding new solutions.

"Certainly with the Affordable Care Act and now with the new [Trump] administration, things are changing and nobody knows what's going to work or not going to work," he added. "But what we're trying to create this army of entrepreneurs to come join us to figure this out."

Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove, who spoke on a panel before Biden and was recently appointed to Trump's nonpartisan advisory forum of business leaders, said Monday tech is going to play a vital role in health care.

"Technology is going to be one of the solutions in managing people's care better and cheaper and looking after more people, that's one of the opportunities we have here," he said. "We're still dealing with a lot of diseases claiming lives we still don't have answers for."

While Biden made no mention of Trump, the vice president touted his own work as helping "break down silos" to bring medicine, especially doctors, and the tech industry together by sharing information to help find a cure for the disease.

"Y'all don't always play well together in the sandbox," he said. "Don't let the old system hinder your intellectual capacity, your dreams and hope and the ability you all possess, you have to change the system.

"And, I guarantee you that I will spend the rest of my life doing that, but I'm going to need your help."