President Biden on Wednesday relaunched his cancer “moonshot,” a federal effort to help the scientific community accelerate its quest to reduce the disease’s deadly toll over the next quarter-century.
Biden said the goal was to cut cancer’s death rates by at least 50% and to improve the experiences of those battling it. Biden called the initiative a “presidential priority” and said its goals were achievable thanks to scientific breakthroughs during the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Just as we harnessed science to develop cutting-edge COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, we will bring a sense of urgency in the fight against cancer,” Biden said.
The Biden administration’s first actions will include creating a “cancer Cabinet” of federal departments and agencies to better focus the government’s efforts on the disease and to host a gathering of public and private groups to discuss innovations in treatment. The White House said Biden would name a coordinator to work out of the executive office to oversee the effort.
Biden, who led the Obama administration’s cancer moonshot, did not announce any new funding for the initiative. Instead, he urged Congress to pass legislation to increase funding for it. Congress passed bipartisan legislation in 2016 directing $1.8 billion to fund cancer research and related activities. About $400 million of that pot remains to be spent. Biden said that the cancer death rate dropped by 25% since the launch of that initiative.
The relaunch comes a year into the president’s term and in the immediate wake of two major legislative defeats, as Biden seeks to engineer a political turnaround for himself and his party ahead of the November midterms, which is projected to be difficult for Democrats up for reelection . Cancer is deeply personal to Biden and one of the few nonpartisan issues.
Biden and First Lady Jill Biden also urged Americans to get a cancer screening, a key diagnostic tool that can improve survival rates. Americans missed more than 9 million such screenings because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Biden.
“We have to get cancer screenings back on track and make sure they’re accessible for all Americans,” said Biden, who noted that he got screened for colon cancer in November.
“I know it’s scary,” Biden said. “But screening is how you catch it early before it’s too late.”
Biden noted that it was then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky who asked to rename the 2016 bipartisan legislation after Beau, Biden’s late son who died from brain cancer in 2015.
During Wednesday’s event, the president recognized the oncologist who treated his son.
“Doctor, I love you,” Biden said.
Biden was joined at the event by top administration officials, including Vice President Kamala Harris, whose mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, died from colon cancer in 2009. Harris noted that her mother was a breast cancer researcher whose “discoveries helped save women’s lives.”
In 2020, more than 1.6 million Americans were diagnosed with cancer, and 600,000 died from it, making it the second-leading cause of death in the United States, according to federal statistics. The most common cancers are of the breast, prostate and lung, according to the American Cancer Society.
After leaving office, Biden continued cancer outreach through his private foundation but suspended it after announcing his bid for the White House.
During the event, Biden said tackling cancer is “one of the reasons, quite frankly, why Iran for president.”
The event at the White House was attended by more than 100 people, including Harris, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) and Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.).
This is “a mission that can truly unify the nation,” Biden said. “We can end cancer as we know it.”
Times staff writer Anumita Kaur contributed to this report.