In an April 26 news conference on the Vatican summit, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, stressed that Biden's presence "has no political meaning in the strict sense, but it has a political meaning in a noble sense."
Biden, who identifies himself as a Roman Catholic despite offering political support for issues contrary to Church teaching such as abortion and gay "marriage," met with Pope Francis briefly after speaking.
The Pope himself delivered his own address after Biden, stressing the need to develop a greater sense of empathy when pursuing treatments for cancer and rare diseases, as well as the need to ensure that all people, including those in developing countries, have access to quality and advanced care.
In his address, Vice President Biden noted how there have been "unimaginable breakthroughs" in the fight to cure cancer, even compared to just five years ago.
He pointed to former U.S. president Richard Nixon's "war on cancer," which has since boosted investment in scientific research, medical centers and doctors who work tirelessly to slow the spread of cancer.
Different genres of science and medicine are beginning to work together where previously they never have, he said, but noted that there is still more progress to be made.
"Our goal in the U.S. is to do in the next five years what would otherwise take a decade, but that's the work of all of us," he said, and called for "an international commitment" to eliminating cancer and deaths related to the disease.
Top-of-the-line treatments "can't belong to just the privileged and the powerful, it has to belong to everyone," he said, and encouraged both governments and philanthropists to invest in research, data sharing and treatments that improve patient outcome.
Cancer, he said, "is not a national problem, it's an international problem, it's a human problem," and urged participants to use their intelligence to make things "a little bit better," and to comfort and heal those who are "frightened and in need."