If Cancer Becomes Biden’s Cause, a Bold but Polarizing Doctor Is On Call

WASHINGTON — One day last winter, desperate as his son fought for his life against a killer brain cancer, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his family reached out to one of America’s most famous, and controversial, doctors for help.

The doctor, Patrick Soon-Shiong, a billionaire medical entrepreneur and investor who made a fortune developing an important cancer drug and now has broader ambitions for fighting cancer, flew to Washington from California to meet with the vice president’s family. That would open a series of meetings over time with the vice president as well as with Beau Biden, the ailing son.

In the end, Beau Biden died of his cancer in May. But the vice president and the cancer doctor have developed a relationship that is powering the next stage of Mr. Biden’s public life. Having concluded that he did not have enough time to defeat Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, Mr. Biden is instead embarking on a campaign perhaps more daunting: finally defeating cancer.

“I believe that we need a moonshot in this country to cure cancer,” Mr. Biden said in his speech in the White House Rose Garden last month announcing that he would not run for president. “It’s personal. But I know we can do this.”

In describing this “moonshot,” Mr. Biden was adopting language used by Dr. Soon-Shiong to describe his aspiration for cancer research. The two met for an hour in the White House just a few weeks ago, and Dr. Soon-Shiong gave the vice president a two-page outline of what he had in mind.

“We need to find a completely different way to change cancer care in this country,” Dr. Soon-Shiong said in an interview. “Vice President Biden could play an amazing role in making this happen.”

His stature and personal experience give Mr. Biden a unique opportunity to bring together Republicans and Democrats, the doctor added. “He’s very passionate about it.”

For a politician whose career has been built on passion, this is when Mr. Biden is figuring out what comes next. He turns 73 this month and faces involuntary retirement in January 2017 after 44 years as a senator and vice president. After focusing on trying to save Beau and then on whether to run for president, Mr. Biden is only now beginning to concentrate on his remaining 15 months in office and beyond.

Friends hardly expect him to while away days in retirement. “One thing you can say about Joe Biden is he won’t go quietly into the night,” said former Senator Ted Kaufman, a Democrat from Delaware and longtime aide who remains one of his closest advisers.

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