- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 29, 2016

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Scientists, oncologists, nonprofit representatives, patients and others came together in Sioux Falls Wednesday to participate in a cancer research conference remotely hosted by Vice President Joe Biden.

Those gathered at Avera Health’s cancer center listened via video conference to Biden’s remarks during the summit - the centerpiece of the vice president’s final-year push to double the pace of research toward curing cancer. They later expressed their agreement with Biden’s remarks regarding the need to increase data sharing among cancer research institutions and discussed some of the challenges that South Dakota residents face in the prevention, detection and treatment of the disease given the rural nature of the state.

Dr. Luis Rojas, a gynecologic oncologist with Avera, said Biden’s plan to make a decade worth of advances toward a cure in five years is “ambitious.” He said the vice president’s call to action should not just be a challenge for health care providers, but a “duty to proceed to try to achieve.”

Rojas, however, emphasized that the goal will only be met if institutions across the country regardless of size collaborate with each other.

“I look at our state, and we have three great health care systems,” Rojas said. “We should start collaborating more with each other for the people in the state - share our ideas, share our research. That’s how we are going to be able to open more barriers and make research more available to those rural communities where it’s really nonexistent right now.”

Biden called out drug companies for unnecessary price increases and major research hospitals for insufficient collaboration.

“It’s not anybody’s fault, but we’ve got to fix it,” Biden said at the “National Cancer Moonshot Summit.” He threatened to pull federal funding for cancer studies that do not publicly disclose their results as required.

Cancer researchers and their institutions have pushed back on those critiques, arguing they already share reams of data and partner frequently with each other and the government. They’ve also cited major hurdles imposed by federal agencies with intense bureaucratic requirements that they say make it near-impossible to develop treatments quickly and get them approved for patients - a concern that Biden acknowledged.

At the summit in Sioux Falls, a panel that included Rojas reinforced the need to strengthen cancer awareness efforts that target the state’s rural population and to find ways that care can be delivered to people who live hours away from a cancer center.

Panelists said that many people living and working in rural areas delay or even forgo treatment because of the distance they would have to travel to get it and how it would interfere with their job and family.

“The problem that we have … is that sometimes we got other things going on and some of those awareness things are not at the highest point in our list,” said Walt Bones, former agriculture secretary in South Dakota and a member of Avera’s rural cancer advisory board. “If you feel something in your throat or in your chest, but it’s calving time or it’s harvest time or it’s planting time, we are going to just push it off maybe for 30-60 days, and then all of a sudden from stage 2 it’s stage 3, maybe stage 4.”

After his son, former Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, died of brain cancer last year, the elder Biden said he’d spend his remaining months in office on a cancer “moonshot.”

Dozens of facilities around the country listened to Biden’s remarks and hosted roundtables Wednesday.

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Follow Regina Garcia Cano on Twitter at: https://www.twitter.com/reginagarciakNO

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