President Joe Biden said today he plans to reignite the Cancer Moonshot initiative to accelerate progress in combating cancer.
Biden initially launched the Cancer Moonshot in 2016 as vice president after his son Beau Biden died of brain cancer in 2015. Congress provided $1.8 billion in funding for the Cancer Moonshot over seven years through the 21st Century Cures Act that same year. Upon its launch, the initiative set for the goals of accelerating scientific discovery in cancer, foster greater collaboration and improve data-sharing.
Now as president, Biden has set new goals through the Cancer Moonshot, including the reduction in the death rate from cancer by at least 50% over the next 25 years, improvements in the experiences of people living with and surviving cancer and — more ambitiously — to “end cancer as we know it today.”
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Cancer Institute has noted a decrease in national routine cancer screenings. With these findings, Biden established a call to action for Americans to get routine screenings, while making them more available and accessible.
“Americans missed more than 9 million cancer screenings in the last two years because of COVID,” Biden said at a White House event Wednesday. “I’m announcing a call to action for cancer screening and early detection. If you were supposed to get a cancer screening during the pandemic, call your primary care doctor today. If you are that doctor, talk to your patients.”
To enable greater access to screening, the White House said it will aim to provide opportunities for more at-home screenings — especially for colon cancer and HPV — mobile screenings for communities without access to clinics, and community health networks.
NCI is also going to organize its cancer centers and networks like the NCI Community Oncology Research Network to offer new avenues to compensate for delayed cancer screenings due to the pandemic.
Furthermore, the newly announced "Cancer Cabinet" will bring together NCI and the National Institutes of Health with the departments of Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs, Defense, Energy, and Agriculture as well as other agencies to address cancer in a variety of ways.
Biden called on Congress to fund and form his Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, or ARPA-H, modeled after DOD’s advanced projects agency, DARPA, to enable long-term research advancements in cancer and other medical conditions.
“This will be a new kind of entity within the National Institutes of Health, the NIH, with autonomy and authorities to drive unprecedented progress in biomedicine,” Biden said. “ARPA-H will have a singular purpose to drive breakthroughs to prevent, detect and treat diseases including cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes and other diseases.”
Underpinning many of these efforts will be new ways to share data. Biden noted that medical data is still greatly siloed and that transferring health records still remains a challenge. He argued that cancer research can move forward faster with stronger data-sharing practices and infrastructure.
“We don’t learn enough from patients’ experiences or their data,” Biden said. “When we first started this work, one of the first things we did was make sure that doctors and researchers work together, share information, allow patients to share their data with other doctors and researchers to help others. But there’s so much more to do.”
Along with expanding data for research, Biden added that he’s committing to address health inequities in cancer screening, diagnostics and treatment. He said there are gaps in cancer data on individuals of different races, geographic areas, genders and sexual orientation. The reignited Cancer Moonshot will seek to understand different people’s backgrounds and data and leverage that to advance personalized medicine for individuals in the cancer care and prevention space.
As Biden reignites the Cancer Moonshot, he added that he wants to take the urgency and accelerated advancements that the country saw during the COVID-19 pandemic to the cancer research space. As cancer experts find that vaccinations are emerging as a promising avenue to prevent cancer, Biden said he wants to take the mRNA vaccine technology from COVID-19 to cancer research to fight the disease.
Biden noted that since the National Cancer Act passed in 1971, cancer research has evolved greatly, but he aims to make cancer research a “presidential White House priority.”