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Biden touts next steps on 'Cancer Moonshot' in speech at JFK library

The announcements, which include naming the inaugural director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, came on the 60th anniversary of Kennedy's own moonshot speech.
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden announced new steps to expand on his administration’s “Cancer Moonshot” initiative to prevent deaths from cancer by trying to speed the discovery of new treatments and improve prevention, detection and treatment to those suffering from the disease.

“Cancer doesn’t discriminate between red or blue, it doesn’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat,” Biden said in a speech Monday afternoon at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. “Beating cancer is something we can do together and that’s why I’m here today.”

Biden likened the effort to Kennedy’s goal of putting a man on the moon in his remarks, which come on the 60th anniversary of Kennedy’s moonshot speech. The goal of the initiative is to reduce the death rate from cancer by 50% over the next 25 years, Biden said. The effort is a personal one to Biden, who lost his son Beau Biden to brain cancer in 2015. 

During his remarks, Biden named longtime science adviser Renee Wegrzyn as the inaugural director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, which he created in March. The agency’s mission is to improve the federal government’s ability to foster health and biomedical research.

“Under Dr. Wegrzyn’s leadership, ARPA-H will support programs and projects that undertake challenges ranging from the molecular to the societal, with the potential to transform entire areas of medicine and health in order to prevent, detect, and treat some of the most complex diseases such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and cancer, providing benefits for all Americans,” the White House said in a statement.

Biden also signed an executive order Monday that aims to boost biotechnology and biomanufacturing to ensure that cutting-edge technologies like those needed to fight cancer will be developed and made in the U.S., the White House said.

Biden sought to highlight progress made by the “Cancer Cabinet“ advisory group he formed earlier this year, including actions to close the screening gap, address environmental exposure, decrease the impact of preventable cancers and bring the latest research to patients and communities. 

The cabinet, for example, has announced that the health care and climate legislation Biden signed last month will reduce the cost of prescription drugs for cancer patients. Researchers found that a drug used to treat prostate cancer, Zytiga, had an expected out-of-pocket cost in 2019 of more than $8,000 a year, but seniors and others who take the drug could save more than $6,000 a year under the new law, the White House said in a release.

The National Cancer Institute also started a national trial to help identify blood tests to detect cancers, which would provide a less-invasive method of early detection.

The administration is also taking steps to invest in the next generation of cancer researchers, study the role of telehealth in cancer prevention, and examine how toxic exposures could lead to cancers in members of the military. Biden has said he believes his son Beau’s cancer may have been linked to exposure to burn pits when Beau was deployed in Iraq.

While in Boston, Biden also delivered remarks at Logan International Airport on the effect that the infrastructure law he signed last year is having there and other places around the country.