President Biden announced on Wednesday that he is reigniting "Cancer Moonshot," the project he spearheaded as vice president during the Obama administration.
"My message today is this: We can do this. I promise you, we can do this," Biden said in Wednesday remarks at the White House. "All those we lost, all those we miss. We can end cancer as we know it."
The initiative aims to dramatically reduce the national death rate from cancer, as well as improve the experience of survivors and family members of those living with the disease. In a seven-page fact sheet announcing the relaunch, the White House said it would cut "today's age-adjusted death rate from cancer by at least 50 percent" over the next 25 years.
"I committed to this fight when I was vice president. It's one of the reasons why, quite frankly, I ran for president. But let there be no doubt, now that I am president, this is a presidential White House priority. Period," Biden said.
Former President Barack Obama put Biden in charge of the Moonshot Initiative in 2016, the year after Biden's son Beau died of brain cancer at age 46.
"It's personal for me. But it's also personal for nearly every American, and millions of people around the world," Biden wrote on Medium at the time. "We all know someone who has had cancer, or is fighting to beat it."
Indeed, the White House says first lady Jill Biden got involved in cancer advocacy when four of her friends were diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993. And Vice President Harris' mom, Shyamala Gopalan, was a breast cancer research scientist who died of colon cancer in 2009.
The original project focused largely on improving therapeutics, prevention and early detection, citing its primary goals as accelerating scientific discovery, fostering greater collaboration and improving data sharing. Congress authorized nearly $2 billion in funding for the project, to be spread over seven years — which is set to end in 2023.
Now, Biden says he is relaunching the Cancer Moonshot with "renewed White House leadership" and in a changed public health landscape. The new initiative doesn't ask for more funding, but it does set out new priorities.
According to the White House, recent progress in cancer therapeutics, diagnostics and patient-driven care — as well as the public health lessons and scientific advances of the COVID-19 pandemic — make it possible to set and achieve more ambitious goals.
"Over the first 20 years of this century, the age-adjusted death rate from cancer has fallen by about 25 percent, which means more people are surviving cancer and living longer after being diagnosed with cancer," it said. "That was enabled by progress on multiple fronts."
Of course, COVID-19 also forced many Americans to delay health care and check-up visits. Routine cancer screenings dropped dramatically during the height of the pandemic, prompting worried experts to predict a rise in the number of cancers diagnosed or those that are caught at a later stage.
The White House said the president and first lady will deliver a call to action on this very topic, in an effort to "jumpstart progress on screenings that were missed as a result of the pandemic, and help ensure that everyone in the United States equitably benefits from the tools we have to prevent, detect, and diagnose cancer."
The new project's other goals include: diagnosing cancer sooner, preventing cancer, addressing inequities, targeting the right treatment for each patient, ramping up progress against rare and childhood cancers, supporting patients, caregivers and survivors, and learning from the experience and data of previous patients.
It's no small task, and the Biden administration is promising to mobilize the entire federal government in its efforts. Here's what it plans to do:
- Create a White House Cancer Moonshot coordinator in the Executive Office of the President.
- Form and convene a cancer cabinet with members from various government agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Office of Public Engagement.
- Issue a call to action on cancer screening and early detection, which includes developing a program to study and evaluate multicancer detection tests.
- Host a White House Cancer Moonshot summit involving research and healthcare communities, patient organizations, agency leadership, biopharmaceutical companies and other stakeholders.
- Expand an existing White House Cancer Roundtable Conversation Series with experts, patients, survivors and caregivers.
- Call on the private sector, health care providers, academic institutions, foundations and other Americans to see themselves as part of the mission to reduce deadly cancer and improve patient experiences.
This story originally appeared on the Morning Edition live blog.