Biden pushes ‘moonshot’ to fight cancer in nod to JFK

Politics

President Joe Biden waves as he boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Friday, Sept. 9, 2022, on his way to the groundbreaking of the new Intel semiconductor manufacturing facility in New Albany, Ohio. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

BOSTON (NewsNation) — President Joe Biden on Monday highlighted his administration’s efforts aimed at “ending cancer as we know it” on the 60th anniversary of former President John F. Kennedy’s moonshot speech.

The president traveled to Boston to draw attention to a new federally-backed study that seeks to validate using blood tests to screen against multiple cancers — a potential game-changer in diagnostic testing to dramatically improve early detection of cancers.

At the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Biden channeled JFK’s famed moonshot speech 60 years ago, likening the space race to his own effort and hoping it, too, would galvanize Americans.

“He established a national purpose that could rally the American people and a common cause,” Biden said of Kennedy’s space effort, adding that “we can usher in the same unwillingness to postpone.”

His speech comes as Biden seeks to rally the nation around developing treatments and therapeutics for the pervasive diseases that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rank as the second-highest killer of people in the U.S. after heart disease. Biden hopes to move the U.S. closer to the goal he set in February of cutting U.S. cancer fatalities by 50% over the next 25 years and to dramatically improve the lives of caregivers and those suffering from cancer.

In 2022, the American Cancer Society estimates, 1.9 million new cancer cases will be diagnosed and 609,360 people will die of cancer diseases.

The issue is personal to Biden, who lost his adult son Beau in 2015 to brain cancer. After Beau’s death, Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act, which dedicated $1.8 billion over seven years for cancer research and was signed into law in 2016 by President Barack Obama.

Obama designated Biden, then vice president, to run “mission control” on directing the cancer funds as recognition of Biden’s grief as a parent and desire to do something about it. 

Despite Biden’s attempts to hearken back to Kennedy and his space program, the current initiative lacks that same level of budgetary support. The Apollo program garnered massive public investment — more than $20 billion, or more than $220 billion in 2022 dollars adjusted for inflation. Biden’s “moonshot” effort is far more modest and reliant on private sector investment.

Still, Biden has tried to maintain momentum for investments in public health research, including championing the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, modeled after similar research and development initiatives benefiting the Pentagon and intelligence community.

On Monday, Biden announced Dr. Renee Wegrzyn as the inaugural director of ARPA-H, which has been given the task of studying treatments and potential cures for cancers, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and other diseases. He will also announce a new National Cancer Institute scholars’ program to provide resources to early-career scientists studying treatments and cures for cancer.

In Boston, Biden also attended an event at Logan International Airport to highlight investments from the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law as well as a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee.

Biden urged Americans who might have delayed cancer screenings during the pandemic to seek them out swiftly, reminding them that early detection can be key to avoiding adverse outcomes.

He was also highlighted provisions in the Democrats’ health care and climate change bill that the administration believes will lower out-of-pocket drug prices for some widely used cancer treatments. He will also celebrate new guarantees for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits, that cover their potential cancer diagnoses.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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