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Biden restarts 'Cancer Moonshot' program, aims to cut death rate by 50 percent

The president set a goal of halving the cancer death rate over the next 25 years.
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced a relaunch of the "Cancer Moonshot" program started during the Obama administration with the goal of ending a disease that kills more than 600,000 people a year in the U.S.

In a speech at the White House, Biden said the revamped initiative aims to reduce the death rate from cancer by at least 50 percent over the next 25 years and improve the experiences of patients and their families.

"We can end cancer as we know it," Biden said. "This is a presidential White House priority."

The president also announced a campaign to get more people screened for cancer, noting that more than 9 million cancer screenings have been skipped during the Covid pandemic. Biden, 79, received a colonoscopy in November.

The fight against cancer is personal to Biden, who lost his son Beau in 2015 to brain cancer.

Biden said that part of the Cancer Moonshot's goal would be to help people diagnosed with cancer navigate the overwhelming amount of treatment information and a bureaucratic health care system that can often leave patients feeling helpless.

"Despite all the progress, there’s still a sense of powerlessness," Biden said, drawing on his own experience with his son's diagnosis. "Guilt that maybe you're not doing enough because you don't know enough."

Biden previously oversaw the Cancer Moonshot program, which was launched during former President Barack Obama's last year in office, and he later founded the Biden Cancer Initiative, a nonprofit organization dedicated to cancer prevention and research. The initiative closed in 2019 after Biden announced his White House bid.

A Biden administration official said the Cancer Moonshot program was being revamped now because "a lot has changed that makes it possible to set really ambitious goals."

Biden faces sagging approval numbers and an uphill battle to defend Democratic majorities in Congress in November. The outcome of the midterm elections could also affect future funding for the cancer initiative, which does not include new funding commitments.

Congress provided $1.8 billion for the Cancer Moonshot program in 2016, very little of which is left. The Biden official said the administration is "very confident that there will be robust funding going forward."

Biden said the fight against cancer should be a bipartisan issue that unifies the nation, and encouraged a similar "urgency" be applied to cancer as was brought to developing a Covid-19 vaccine.

"It's bold, it's ambitious, but it's completely doable," Biden said of his plan.

Biden announced a new position, that of Cancer Moonshot coordinator in the White House, as well as a "Cancer Cabinet," which will include such agencies as the departments of Health and Human Services, Defense and Energy, in addition to the Environmental Protection Agency. He also announced plans to host a Cancer Moonshot summit at the White House.

Biden has spoken extensively about his experience losing his son Beau to cancer and has said he wants to be the president remembered for ending the disease.

During a visit last year to Pfizer’s vaccine manufacturing facility in Michigan, Biden said, "I want you to know that once we beat Covid, we're going to do everything we can to end cancer as we know it."