In today’s Bulldog wrapup of life science and technology news:

  • IBM’s Watson to tackle cancer
  • NASA fires a Mars booster
  • Mark Zuckerberg’s new wall angers neighbors in Hawaii
  • The FDA approves a pill to treat hepatitis C

The details:

  • Biden hosting cancer summit to try to accelerate research

Vice President Joe Biden will try to give efforts to cure cancer a jolt during a summit on Wednesday in Washington that’s casting a spotlight on research and innovative trials taking place across the country.

Scientists, oncologists, donors and patients planned to gather Wednesday at Howard University for the daylong event, with thousands more participating at related events across the country, the White House said. Comedian Carol Burnett, whose daughter died of cancer, was to introduce Biden and stay to emcee the summit.

For Biden, the conference comes as time is running out to make good on his pledge to double the rate of progress toward a cure before leaving office. After his son, former Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, died of brain cancer last year, the elder Bidenannounced he wouldn’t run for president but would spend his remaining months in office on a cancer “moonshot.”

Yet while Biden had hoped to dramatically boost government activity on cancer, his campaign has run up against the same political and bureaucratic hurdles that have challenged other White House priorities. To fund Biden’s effort, President Barack Obama asked Congress for $1 billion over two budget years for research. Only a fraction has been approved.

To illustrate what’s on the cutting edge for cancer, the Energy Department and the National Cancer Institute planned to announce new programs to analyze cancer data with supercomputers, plus another computing program teaming up with drug maker GlaxoSmithKline to speed up drug development. IBM was to unveil plans to donate its Watson supercomputing technology to help Veterans Affairs ramp up its precision medicine program by sequencing the genomics of tumors for 10,000 patients over two years.

  • Booster rocket fires in key NASA test for Mars missions

NASA’s fireworks came early this year with a successful rocket test in Utah.

On Tuesday, NASA fired a booster intended to hoist astronauts into true outer space. The ground test lasted the full two minutes, and the early word is that everything went well.

NASA plans to use the mega-rocket for trips to Mars in the 2030s.

This is the second and final test-firing of the booster designed for NASA’s Space Launch System. The debut launch from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center in 2018 won’t carry people. But a few years later, astronauts will climb aboard for a flight near the moon.

Tuesday’s test was conducted by Orbital ATK, the NASA contractor that also made the smaller shuttle boosters for NASA. This 154-foot-long booster was horizontal and pointing toward a mountain near Promontory, Utah, when it spewed out flames and smoke — 3.6 million pounds of rocket thrust.

Each SLS rocket will have two boosters along with four main engines. There ultimately will be 9 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, considerably more than the now-retired shuttle, noted former astronaut Charles Precourt, an Orbital ATK vice president.

Precourt said the team worked nonstop over the past five weeks to prepare for Tuesday’s milestone. “Really a delight,” he said.

Noted NASA human exploration chief William Gerstenmaier, “We should all enjoy this moment.”

Watch video at:

Learn more at:

NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/sls/index.html

Orbital ATK: http://www.orbitalatk.com/

  • Facebook CEO’s Hawaii neighbors grumble about new wall

Some of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s neighbors are grumbling about a rock wall he’s having built on his property on the north shore of the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

Retiree Moku Crain said Tuesday the wall looks daunting and forbidding. Crain hopes and expects Zuckerberg will soften the wall’s look by planting foliage around it.

The wall began going up about four to six weeks ago. It runs along the property next to a road in the semi-rural community of Kilauea.

“Whereas before when we drove along the road we could see the ocean and see through the property, it’s closing off that view,” Crain said. “So I think that’s part of it. Nobody likes change.”

Crain estimated the wall was about 6 feet tall and that another existing wall on the property was only about 4 feet. Few would complain if the new wall was built at the same height, Crain predicted.

Lindsay Andrews, a spokeswoman for the billionaire’s Kauai property operations, says the rock wall is designed to reduce highway and road noise. Similar walls are routinely used for this purpose, she said. The wall follows all rules and regulations, she said.

  • FDA approves first pill to treat all forms of hepatitis C

Federal health officials on Tuesday approved the first pill to treat all major forms of hepatitis C, the latest in a series of drug approvals that have reshaped treatment of the liver-destroying virus.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the combination pill, Epclusa, from Gilead Sciences for patients with and without liver damage. The new drug’s broad indication could make it easier to use than five other hepatitis drugs recently approved by the FDA, which are each tailored to different viral strains or stages of liver disease.

Epclusa will cost $74,760 for a 12-week course of treatment, or roughly $890 per pill.