Biden’s New “Cancer Moonshot 2.0” Hopes to Build on the Success of Historic Campaigns Against Cancer
On World Cancer Day, February 4th, 2022, President Biden announced a new campaign, the Cancer Moonshot 2.0, whose ambitious goal is to reduce cancer mortality in half over the next 25 years.
Before we dig into the details of this new initiative, we should take a look at previous campaigns to reduce the incidence of cancer.
President Biden, who turned 80 this week, has long, long experience in government, having first been elected to the Senate in 1972 – when he was only 30 years old – during a time of increasing concerns about the effects of pollution on the environment and public health.
Concerns about toxic chemical pollution (and its possible connection to rising cancer rates) did not go unnoticed by then President Nixon, especially after the first ever annual Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970. Looking ahead to his re-election campaign in 1972, the Nixon administration responded with two landmark pieces of legislation:
- The first was the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in December 1970. Within two years, the EPA had banned the infamous insecticide DDT, whose use was associated with rapid declines of insect and bird populations, including our national symbol, the Bald Eagle.
- The second was Nixon’s “The War on Cancer” – an initiative designed to address rising concerns over high rates of cancer mortality in the early 1970s. This culminated in the passing of the National Cancer Act of 1971, which dramatically increased the funding of institutions, such as the National Cancer Institute, by more than $1.5 billion (1970) dollars.
Since that time, the “War on Cancer” has been met with a mix of successes and frustrating failures. While overall cancer mortality rates have edged down (in part due to earlier screenings and improved treatments for some cancers), the war soon became a stalemate with no clear end in sight – rather than a quick, decisive battle to knock out cancer once and for all.
Subsequent Washington administrations have renewed the efforts to battle cancer through the introduction of new legislation packages, offering more funding and research support.
For example, in 2009, the Senate passed a bill known as the ALERT ACT (21st Century Cancer Access to Life-Saving Early detection, Research, and Treatment Act. While this bill did not pass the house, it signaled a shift toward promoting early cancer detection (through increased funding for screening) and greater access to clinical trials as a way to bring down cancer mortality rates.
While the ALERT ACT didn’t pass, more funding did arrive as part of President Obama’s economic stimulus plan, the 2009 Recovery Act, created in response to the downturn of the Great Recession. Included in the bill was $10 billion in new funding for the NIH and more than $1 billion earmarked for genetic research to identify the causes and possible treatments of cancer.
In his remarks, President Obama spoke of the loss of his mother in her battle with ovarian cancer.
Tragedy has also touched heavily on the life of then-Vice President Biden.
Weeks after winning his 1972 Senate campaign, Biden’s wife and infant daughter were killed in a traffic accident. His two sons, Beau and Hunter, were seriously injured but survived.
Beau Biden went on to have a successful career in law and politics, having served in the Army National Guard in Iraq as a JAG and also elected to the position of Delaware’s State Attorney General. However, he was later diagnosed with brain cancer (glioblastoma multiforme) and passed away in 2015 at the age of 46. There are reports that Joe Biden believes that exposure to carcinogens emitted by military “burn pits” in Iraq contributed to his son’s untimely death.
No doubt the tragic loss of Beau Biden influenced the next round of legislation passed by the Obama-Biden administration, the 21st Century Cures Act of 2016, which secured an additional $4.8 billion in funding for the NIH plus $1.8 billion more earmarked specifically for cancer research, including the creation of The Oncology Center of Excellence (OCE).
In 2016, Vice President Biden first promoted the idea of a “moonshot” program to cure cancer, in a nod to the 1962 speech by President Kennedy announcing a pledge to put a man on the moon before the end of that decade.
What will Biden’s Cancer Moonshot 2.0 Mean for Clinical Research Programs?
That brings us to today.
As we mentioned at the outset, President Biden announced his plans to pursue a Cancer Moonshot 2.0 on February 4th, 2022 – building on the pledges he made in 2016 when he was Vice President.
What’s included in this new Cancer Moonshot 2.0 initiative?
Here is a breakdown of the major goals as outlined by Biden:
· New Goals to Reduce Cancer Mortality
The new aim is to reduce overall cancer mortality by 50% in the next 25 years and provide assistance to those living with cancer, cancer survivors, and their family caregivers.
· Cancer Cabinet
Biden has assembled a new “Cancer Cabinet” task force, bringing together the leadership of nearly 20 federal agencies to create a coordinated response to cancer, as well as outreach programs to academic intuitions, healthcare providers, and the private sector.
· ARPA-H (Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health)
Biden hailed the founding of ARPA-H (which we recently wrote about) as a cornerstone of the efforts to advance medical technology, create next-generation clinical disease therapies, and improve healthcare outcomes.
· Scalable Manufacturing in Cell and Gene Therapies
Biden announced the formation of a new program, the National Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Initiative, to re-shore biomedical manufacturing back to the US. Also, the NIST (National Institutes of Standards and Technology) will get funding to improve cellular gene therapeutics manufacturing in conjunction with the Medical Device Innovation Consortium.
· Better Screening and Early Detection
The NHI will receive $23 million to support the new Telehealth Research Centers of Excellence (TRACE), designed to develop best practices for cancer disease screening via telehealth.
· Address Environmental and Equity Concerns
Biden has underlined the need to consider all aspects of cancer prevention, including improved diet, exercise, weight loss, and control over diabetes. Equity is another major concern, both in providing greater access to care but also to avoid concentrating environmental hazards in lower-income areas.
· Progress in Treating Rare Cancers
Among the over 200 distinct types of cancers, some are considered “rare,” leaving patients with fewer options for clinical treatment; efforts to address these conditions need to be considered in research planning and funding, according to Biden.
· Reduce Healthcare Costs and Increase Support for Caregivers
A cancer diagnosis can often lead to economic hardship, not only for patients but also for the caretakers, who are often family members. This initiative pledges to address these issues with increased support for families facing cancer treatments.
· Improved Data Access and Sharing for Both Researchers and Patients
The new program also wants to improve communication about new cancer research and clinical treatments by expanding early access to research through the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) as well as beefing up funding NIH’s Cancer Research Data Ecosystem, which is tasked to facilitate data sharing.
· Military Toxic Exposure Research
Biden is also championing efforts at DOD’s Murtha Cancer Center Research Program, which will launch PROMETHEUS, the Project for Military Exposures and Toxin History Evaluation for U.S. service members who may have been exposed to carcinogens during their military service.
Will the Cancer Moonshot 2.0 Be a Success?
Time will tell if this new program will meet its aggressive goals or not.
One reason for optimism is the number of exciting new cancer research efforts taking place in laboratories across the US and around the world. We’ll be looking at some of the most promising developments in upcoming articles, so stay tuned.
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