WASHINGTON (CBS/AP) — A nonprofit foundation set up by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden that relied on health care world partnerships to speed a cure for cancer has suspended its operations, it announced Monday. The Biden Cancer Initiative’s sudden move to cease its activities comes two years after it was founded in 2017 by the former vice president and his wife, Jill, as a philanthropic extension of Biden’s stewardship of the White House Cancer Moonshot program.
Biden, who on Monday was detailing his health care plan, headed the Obama administration effort to accelerate a cancer cure in tribute to his son Beau, who died of the disease in 2015. Biden said his health care plan would add a public option to Obamacare.
“I believe we have to protect and build on Obamacare. That’s why I proposed adding a public option to Obamacare as the best way to lower costs and cover everyone,” Biden said.
The nonprofit promoted nearly 60 partnerships with drug companies, health care firms, charities and other organizations that pledged more than $400 million to improve cancer treatment.
Biden and his wife left the group’s board in April as an ethics precaution before he joined the presidential campaign. But the nonprofit had trouble maintaining momentum without their involvement. And the roles played by Biden allies and health care-related firms in aiding the foundation’s activities have raised questions about their potential interests if Biden won the presidency.
“Today, we are suspending activities given our unique circumstances. We remain personally committed to the cause, but at this time will have to pause efforts,” said Greg Simon, the nonprofit’s executive director.
Simon, who had a similar executive role in the Cancer Moonshot government anti-cancer effort, said that the nonprofit could not replicate the Bidens’ “convening power and ability to get issues to the top of the list” of health-care world interest.
“We tried to power through but it became increasingly difficult to get the traction we needed to complete our mission,” he said.
The Biden Cancer Initiative has taken in several million dollars in direct funding for its operations, but the bulk of the money supporting the partnerships it promotes came in the form of indirect pledges. That money did not go directly to the nonprofit but instead has been managed by the participating companies and organizations to fund their research and work. Biden’s group has used its platform and Biden’s appearances to promote the partnerships.
Last September, at the nonprofit’s first summit convened in Washington, Biden trumpeted 57 commitments by pharmaceutical firms, other health care companies and organizations. Most were newly pledged by the organizations, though at least a dozen were carry-overs from Biden’s government-run Cancer Moonshot work.
But the nonprofit has announced only a handful of new commitments, one sign that without the Bidens’ involvement the foundation was unable to operate at the same level on its own.
Simon also acknowledged that several of the program’s partnerships were “not successful,” though he did not specify which ones had not worked out.
As Biden immersed himself in the presidential campaign, the nonprofit also became vulnerable to political attacks because of its close work with corporations and political allies whose interests posed potential ethics concerns if he returned to the White House.
An Associated Press examination of the nonprofit’s partnership program and Biden’s speeches on behalf its activities found last month that in some cases health care world entities and allies touted by the former vice president were already lobbying for interests before the federal government.
In January 2018, Biden spoke at a San Francisco conference sponsored by a health tech firm whose chief medical officer is Biden’s son-in-law, who was also on the Biden cancer nonprofit’s board. During that speech, Biden also hailed a medical device entrepreneur who has helped raise funds for Biden’s campaign. Both firms lobby with the federal government.
Similarly, the Biden nonprofit promotes commitments from at least a dozen major drug firms that lobby with the government.
The nonprofit’s collaborations with pharmaceutical firms could also have complicated Biden’s new health-care policy outlined today. Biden promised to “stand up to the abuse of power by prescription drug corporations if elected.”
Last month, in a response to the AP report, Biden’s campaign said he commits to “the highest standards of ethical culture.” But deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield also said that Biden believes that success in curing cancer “will only be achieved by calling on the resources and creativity of a robust private-public partnership: government, health care nonprofits, innovative medical startups, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and patient advocacy groups.”
Biden’s campaign said that if he won the presidency he would issue an executive order and staff guidance on the hiring of lobbyists and other ethics concerns. The campaign did not provide details on that planning.
Biden’s campaign also said his nonprofit’s operations would not be incorporated into a Biden administration cancer-fighting effort. That could have meant that the nonprofit would have continued working with health care industry organizations with Biden in the White House.
Simon said that under federal nonprofit rules, the organization will maintain three board members during its hiatus and would not have to re-incorporate if the Bidens decided to revive the organization. Simon said that while most of the nonprofit’s partnerships were “self-sustaining” and could continue independently, he expected that other cancer foundations would “pick up the slack” in tracking and collaborating with those efforts.
The Bidens’ cancer foundation was the latest nonprofit tied to major Democratic presidential candidates that have halted operations this year.
The Bidens shut down a family foundation in April and in March, the Sanders Institute , an issue-oriented foundation founded by the wife and son of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, said it would end activities amid criticism that the nonprofit had blurred lines between family, fundraising and campaigning.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)