Biden to Present Plan to Cut Cancer Death Rate in Half

WASHINGTON — President Biden will unveil a plan on Wednesday to reduce the death rate from cancer by at least 50 percent over the next 25 years — an ambitious new goal, senior administration officials say, for the cancer “moonshot” program he initiated and presided over five years ago as vice president.

Mr. Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, will also announce a campaign to urge Americans to undergo screenings that were missed during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday evening to preview the president’s announcement. Screening is important to reduce cancer deaths.

The president has a deep personal interest in cancer research; in 2015, his son Beau died of glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer. The next year, President Barack Obama called on Mr. Biden in his State of the Union address to lead the moonshot program, with a goal of making “a decade’s worth of advances in cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment” in five years.

At the time, Congress authorized $1.8 billion over seven years; roughly $400 million of that money has yet to be allocated, and the National Cancer Institute, which oversees the initiative, says it has already spent $1 billion on more than 240 research projects. The senior officials said the White House would not be announcing any new funding commitments, but insisted that there would be “robust funding going forward.”

Instead, the Bidens will set out broadly outlined goals in a showy White House ceremony to be attended by roughly 100 people, including Vice President Kamala Harris, patients, caregivers, family members, researchers and members of Congress.

The White House is billing the event as a fresh push by the president to “reignite” the moonshot program and “end cancer as we know it.” Specifically, Mr. Biden will set a goal of cutting the age-adjusted death rate — a statistic that accounts for expectations that older people are more likely to grow ill and die — by more than half over the next 25 years. But there were few specifics about how that goal would be achieved.

“These are audacious goals, and I have no doubt there will be mechanisms to achieve them,” said Ellen Sigal, founder of Friends of Cancer Research, which works to support cancer research and deliver new therapies to patients, who has been briefed on the plan.

Mr. Biden has already named Danielle Carnival, who worked on the moonshot program during the Obama administration, to help oversee the new version of the effort. Now, the senior officials said, the president will create a “cancer cabinet” to coordinate the work of multiple government agencies.

The White House says more than 9.5 million cancer screenings were missed in the United States as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Mr. Biden will call on the cancer institute, a branch of the National Institutes of Health, to coordinate with cancer treatment centers to offer screenings around the country, and to develop a program to fast-track the development of tests that can detect multiple types of cancer at once.

Presidents since Richard M. Nixon have sought to tackle cancer, of which there are more than 100 types of disease that can vary in the way they grow, spread and respond to treatment. The cancer institute estimates that nearly 40 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with some type of cancer at some point during their lifetimes. The American Cancer Society estimates there will be 1.9 million new cases of cancer in the United States this year, and more than 609,000 cancer deaths.

Most experts no longer talk of “curing” cancer; that language is far too simplistic, and the White House is not using it. But officials say it is possible to make substantial progress in the fight against cancer through early diagnosis and improved treatments.

There have been great strides in cancer research, treatment and prevention in the five years since the original moonshot program was announced. Targeted therapies are helping cancer patients live longer. Doctors can now detect cancers through a simple blood draw. More refined colonoscopies are preventing more colon cancers.

“The original moonshot demonstrated that it was possible to compress a decade’s worth of progress into a few short years,” Ms. Sigal said, adding, “We can’t afford to not make that opportunity a reality again.”

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