WASHINGTON (CN) — Picking up where he left off in the Obama administration, President Joe Biden committed the country on Wednesday to an expansion of medical screenings and research with the goal of cutting U.S. fatalities from cancer in half over the next 25 years.
Biden had started the Cancer Moonshot program when he was vice president and gave it new life in a speech at the White House this afternoon, surrounded by researchers and people undergoing treatment.
"We can do this. I promise you, we can do this. For all those we lost and all those we miss, we can end cancer as we know it," said Biden, whose son Beau died of brain cancer in 2015.
Along with the president, first lady Jill Biden will be intimately involved with the reboot of Moonshot.
During his announcement of the White House initiative, the president paused to speak to the doctor who treated Beau's cancer for a year and a half before his death at age 46.
"I love you," Biden told the oncologist.
Beau's death catalyzed the Bidens' calls for investments in cancer research and resources for families to navigate the daunting work of cancer treatment.
"It's not just patients, cancer changes everyone it touches," Jill Biden said. "And in some ways, it touches us all. For Joe and me, it has stolen our joy. It left us broken in our grief. But through that pain, we found purpose."
The Moonshot program, strategically named to hearken back to the ambitious feat and success of the 1969 moon landing, was launched in 2016 with $1.8 billion for cancer-fighting initiatives over the course of seven years.
Only $400 million in funding for the program remains. The White House has not addressed where it will get funding to renew the program.
Moonshot's next phase will include a multifaceted approach to lowering the death rate and improving the quality of treatment for cancer patients, with an emphasis on racial equity in cancer care, a push for HPV vaccinations to reduce cervical cancer rates and a heavy emphasis on early cancer screenings.
Cancer death rates have been on the decline in recent years, with fatalities down approximately 25% since 2000, amid innovations in detections, treatments and vaccines.
According to a White House fact sheet, however, the pandemic has caused more than 9.5 million people to miss cancer screenings, conjuring a threat to early detection and treatment.
"Despite the progress, lives extended and lives saved, cancer is still the No. 2 cause of death in America, second only to heart disease," Biden said.
The president said the program aims to bolster communication between researchers, doctors and patients, to make information on clinical trials, treatment options and resources accessible to cancer patients and their families who often feel lost post-diagnosis.
"There's still a sense of powerlessness, guilt maybe you're not doing enough because you don't know enough, fear," Biden said.
The program will add a White House coordinator to oversee the initiative and leaders of agencies and departments across the executive will form a "Cancer Cabinet" to coordinate efforts related to the program.
During the announcement of Moonshot's revival Wednesday, Vice President Kamala Harris spoke of her own personal ties to the disease. Harris' mother was a breast cancer researcher and died from colon cancer in 2009.
"I miss my mother every day and I carry her memory with me wherever I go. When President Biden launched his Cancer Moonshot five years ago, I of course thought of my mother. But there was still so much work to do. And we are so much closer," Harris said.
Biden also used the announcement to call on Congress to fund $6.5 billion for the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, a new organization that would expedite research on treatments for cancer as well as other diseases including Alzheimer's.
The president proposed the agency's creation last spring, but a debate over whether it should be an independent agency or a subset of the National Institutes of Health, as Biden officials have called for, has drawn out discussions.
"These are the best dollars we could spend. We got to get it done. We got to get it done," Biden said.
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