Former vice president Joe Biden criticized President Trump for proposing “draconian” cuts in medical-research funding. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Former vice president Joe Biden on Monday blasted as “draconian” President Trump's proposed cuts in funding for biomedical research, predicting that they would severely set back the budget of the National Institutes of Health, shutter labs across the United States and end promising scientific careers.

Biden, in a speech to the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Washington, said the proposed spending reductions for fiscal 2018 are sending a message that the United States is willing to cede its leadership in scientific and technical affairs. That message, he said, was damaging because it could deter ambitious young people from choosing careers in science out of fear that they won't be able to get funding for their work.

Biden, who launched the Obama administration's “cancer moonshot” initiative a little more than a year ago, said the funding cuts, if adopted, would set back the NIH's budget by 15 years. The chance of researchers being able to snag a grant “would almost certainly reach a historic low,” he said.

He said he doubts that Congress, which has traditionally shown bipartisan support for the NIH, would approve the steep reductions in Trump's budget blueprint. In December, at Biden's behest, lawmakers authorized $1.8 billion over seven years to continue cancer-moonshot activities. “This is what the average American expects their government to do” — come together on issues that fundamentally affect their lives, he said in the speech to AACR.

Biden's son Beau died of brain cancer in 2015, spurring the former vice president's personal quest to promote research against the disease. In his State of the Union speech last year, President Obama called on Biden to launch a year-long effort to accelerate progress against cancer. On Monday, Biden spent most of his speech to cancer researchers ticking off the moonshot's accomplishments, such as increased collaboration and data collection, and he called on those gathered to keep up the momentum generated by the initiative.

“This is not the time to undercut progress, for God's sake,” Biden said. “This is the time to double down.”

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