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Biden touts his 'cancer moonshot' on the anniversary of JFK's 'man on the moon' speech

President Joe Biden speaks on the cancer moonshot initiative at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston on Sept. 12.
Evan Vucci
President Joe Biden speaks on the cancer moonshot initiative at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston on Sept. 12.

It's been 60 years since President Kennedy delivered his iconic moonshot speech, marking a goal for America to launch a man into space to step foot on the moon, and bring him back to Earth.

On Monday, President Biden gave a speech at the Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, outlining the progress on his own self-described moonshot: ending cancer.

"This cancer moonshot is one of the reasons why I ran for president," Biden said. "Cancer does not discriminate red and blue. It doesn't care if you're a Republican or a Democrat. Beating cancer is something we can do together."

Biden said cancer is often diagnosed too late, and said "there are too few ways to prevent it in the first place." He also added that there are stark inequities in cancer diagnosis and treatment based on race, disability, zip code, sexual orientation and gender identity.

"We know too little about why treatments work for some patients, but a different patient with the same disease, it doesn't work for. We still lack strategies in developing treatments for some cancers," he said, adding "we don't do enough to help patients and families navigate the cancer care system."

While Biden announced many of his cancer moonshot goals in February, in his speech Monday he laid out some updates.

Ahead of the speech, the White House announced that Dr. Renee Wegrzyn would be appointed the head of a new agency, Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), the first ever person in the role. The agency was established by Biden in February to improve the U.S. government's ability to drive health and biomedical research.

"ARPA-H will have the singular purpose to drive breakthroughs to prevent, detect and treat diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes and other diseases and enable us to live healthier lives," Biden said.

Biden also announced he is signing a new executive order that launches a National Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Initiative, to help ensure that the technology that will help end cancer is made in America.

He said the creation of new technologies for cancer treatments and other things will create jobs and strengthen supply chains — and added that the U.S. then would not have to rely on anywhere else in the world for that advancement.

In February, Biden first announced his cancer moonshot goal of cutting cancer deaths in half in the next 25 years, and improving the experience of those living with and surviving cancer. At the time, he also announced the creation of a Cancer Cabinet that incorporated different corners of the government to work toward his goal.

Combatting cancer is an issue Biden has been tackling since his days as vice president and it's one that hits close to home for his own family, and Vice President Kamala Harris' as well. Biden's son, Beau Biden, died from brain cancer in 2015. And Harris' mother Shyamala Gopalan Harris, who was a breast cancer researcher, died from colon cancer in 2009.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Deepa Shivaram
Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.
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