The White House is renewing an initiative originally spearheaded by President Biden during his vice-presidency in the Obama administration years earlier: the cancer moonshot. On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced the relaunch of the moonshot program, with an ambitious goal of substantially reducing the cancer death rate over the next few decades. Many important details about the initiative, including its proposed funding sources, have yet to be disclosed, however.
In 2016, then-Vice President Biden announced the launch of the original Cancer Moonshot program. Biden’s son, Beau Biden, had died of brain cancer a year earlier at the age of 46, which deeply influenced Biden’s interest in the program.
At the time, it was billed as an effort to accelerate our medical progress against cancer, with focus paid to researching new areas of treatment and efforts to make it easier for researchers to collaborate and share important data. With the passing of the 21th Century Cures Act that same year, Congress allocated $1.8 billion over seven years to the program. So far, according to the National Cancer Institute, more than a billion dollars of that funding has been spent.
On Monday afternoon, President Biden formally announced the renewal of the moonshot, declaring, “we can end cancer as we know it.”
The new version lays out a clear metric for success: At least a 50% reduction of the U.S. cancer death rate over the next 25 years. The plan also calls for improving “the experience of people and their families living with and surviving cancer.”
To do this, Biden has pledged to form a “cancer cabinet” that will bring together existing “departments and agencies across government to address cancer on multiple fronts,” including the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Environmental Protection Agency, among many others. The White House will also appoint a coordinator of the program to the executive branch.
The plan does not detail an explicit amount of funding needed for the program, nor an accounting of where this money will come from. But one priority it mentions is in calling Congress to fund a new proposed program at the National Institutes of Health, the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H). In the 2022 fiscal budget, the administration previously asked for $6.5 billion to be allocated over three years for funding ARPA-H. Biden, for his part, stressed his belief that this initiative will receive bipartisan support, as federal funding for cancer research often has.
Critics of the original moonshot program have argued that it was too narrow in its focus. While research into new avenues of cancer treatment is important, for instance, cancer patients are often sunk into debt by the cost of existing therapies, which further affects their quality of life. And little of the money initially meant for the program was spent on ways to improve cancer prevention efforts, such as expanding access to screening.
This time around, the plan does seem to try addressing some of these critiques. The initiative will also look to boost cancer screening rates, for example, which have notably declined during the pandemic. And it pledges to tackle inequalities in cancer screening, diagnostics, and treatment across different groups throughout the country.