U.S. Vice President Joe Biden took his crusade against cancer to the Vatican on Friday and heard Pope Francis call for an "economic paradigm shift" where medical research is dictated by need rather than profit.
Biden, who lost his 46-year-old son Beau to brain cancer last year, has vowed to pursue a global push to accelerate cancer cures and treatments by marshalling private and public sector resources to combat it as well as rare diseases.
Biden, who flew to Italy from an unannounced trip to Iraq, made back-to-back speeches to doctors and researchers from around the world who attended a Vatican conference on regenerative medicine called "Cellular Horizons".
In his address, Francis called on the scientific community to pay more attention to people afflicted with rare conditions, saying these patients often did not receive enough notice because the potential economic returns were deemed insufficient.
"We are called to make known throughout the world the issue of rare diseases, to invest in appropriate education, to increase funds for research, and to promote necessary legislation as well as an economic paradigm shift. In this way, the centrality of the human person will be rediscovered," he said.
Biden, a devout Catholic, has said he believes the world could be on the edge of a breakthrough in harnessing supercomputing and data analysis to find cures and therapies.
"The truth is that today, more than any point in human history, we have a genuine opportunity to help more people across the world than ever before. And that’s our obligation," Biden said.
The vice president echoed the pope's call for a universal effort to fight disease that put people before prestige and profit. "We should be sharing data the moment it's published, immediately, not hiding it behind paywalls that prevent information from being shared for a year or more," Biden said.
The pope called for research founded on "solidarity, generosity, magnanimity, sharing of knowledge, respect for human life."
The Church teaches that life begins at conception and condemns embryonic stem cell research and therapy because it involves destroying embryos. However, it permits adult stem cell research.
Biden, who ruled out a bid run to be the candidate for the U.S. presidency after his son died, delivered a highly emotional address tinged with personal memories of his family's fight to keep their son alive.
"I wished I could have been the president to preside over the fundamental change to cure cancer," he said.
David Howell Evans, the member of the Irish rock band U2 who is known as "The Edge" and whose daughter had leukemia, was in the front row with Biden.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella; editing by Ralph Boulton)