Sydney (AFP) – US Vice President Joe Biden on Sunday unveiled a series of agreements between the US and Australia to create an “unprecedented” international research database of cancer patients as he kicked off a three-day visit in Melbourne.

Fighting cancer is a personal goal for Biden, who lost his son Beau Biden to brain cancer last year, with the opening of an Aus$1 billion (US$760,000) medical facility his first event on his Australia tour, ahead of talks with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

“Cancer research has not really been a team sport the last 25 years,” Biden, who heads up the White House’s “moonshot” initiative to speed up research into the disease, said at the launch of the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre.

“But you’re making it, as we say in the States, a team sport,” he added, declaring that the world was on the verge of major breakthroughs in treatment.

The collaboration would see an “unprecedented international dataset” of at least 8,000 US patients and 50,000 from Australia made available to cancer researchers and doctors by 2021, he said in a statement.

Biden’s visit comes amid tensions in the region following a UN-backed tribunal’s ruling against China’s claims in the South China Sea.

The US vice president, who warned that Beijing should abide by the same international rules as everyone else in comments to the Sydney Morning Herald Saturday, is expected to address Washington’s military alliance with Canberra during his visit.

Later Sunday, he joined Foreign Minister Julie Bishop at an Australian Rules game in Melbourne. He is due to meet Turnbull on Tuesday before making a “major policy speech” about US-Australia relations on Wednesday.

Biden will also hold talks with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key in Auckland on Thursday.