Biden pitches ‘moonshot’ to cut the number of cancer deaths in half
President Joe Biden speaks about the new health research agency, ARPA-H, during an event at the White House complex March 18, 2022, in Washington, D.C. The newly created agency is intended to accelerate research on cancer and other diseases, medical innovations, and addressing disparities in health outcomes. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — Hoping to channel the momentum that led scientists to land Americans on the moon more than 50 years ago, President Joe Biden doubled down Monday on his quest to halve the number of cancer deaths as part of his revamped “cancer moonshot” initiative.
Speaking from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston on the 60th anniversary of the former president declaring that America would put a man on the moon, Biden urged the medical and political communities to reduce the number of cancer deaths by half within the next 25 years.
“Cancer does not discriminate, red and blue. It doesn’t care if you’re Republican or Democrat. Beating cancer is something we can do together. And that’s why I’m here today,” Biden said.
Biden re-launched the cancer moonshot initiative, which he originally led during his time as vice president for the Obama administration, after he was elected president in 2020.
Hoping to spur more progress, Biden has since called on Congress to authorize and fund a new Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health.
Modeled after similar agencies within the departments of Defense and Energy, Biden said Monday it would have “the singular purpose to drive breakthroughs to prevent, detect and treat diseases including cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes.”
Biden earlier in the day named Dr. Renee Wegrzyn as the first director for the new agency, and noted in his speech she is a “leading biomedical scientist” who had led several biotechnology projects and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
As part of current and future research into cancer treatments, Biden said, the cancer moonshot initiative could help to “turn more cancers from death sentences into chronic diseases people can live with.”
Biden also lamented that for many people a cancer diagnosis comes too late or comes with a complex path to treatment. And for some, he said, the process can reflect inequality.
“There are stark inequities based on race, disability, ZIP code, sexual orientation, gender identity and other factors,” he said.
But Biden committed to changing the way the current diagnosis, treatment and research process works for cancer.
“We don’t share enough data and knowledge to bring the urgency we need to find the new answers,” he said. “But for each of the ways we know cancer today, we know we can change the trajectory.”
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States with 600,000 people dying annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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