President Joe Biden on Wednesday committed the nation to lowering the age-adjusted death rate from cancer by at least 50% over the next 25 years, by reviving the Cancer Moonshot federal effort he launched and led six years ago as vice president.
President Biden said Moonshot also aims to improve the experience of people and their families as they live with cancer and survive their diagnoses, summarized in the program’s mission to “end cancer as we know it;” help resume screenings for cancer that were disrupted since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020; and ensure that all Americans benefit from cancer prevention, detection, and diagnosis.
“It’s one of the reasons why, quite frankly, I ran for president,” President Biden said in announcing the Moonshot re-launch, along with his wife, Jill Biden, EdD, and Vice President Kamala Harris.
“Let there be no doubt, now that I am president, this is a presidential White House priority. Period,” added Biden, who lost his son Beau, 46, to brain cancer in 2015.
Biden’s administration did not announce or commit to a specific sum of federal spending toward the revived Moonshot. Instead, the president laid out a series of steps intended to broaden and deepen federal involvement in fighting cancer.
The new Moonshot will create a “Cancer Cabinet” consisting of officials from numerous federal agencies focused on cancer. Among participating agencies will be the NIH and its National Cancer Institute; the FDA; the departments of Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs, Defense, Energy, and Agriculture; the Environmental Protection Agency; the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS); the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); and the Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Also participating will be the Domestic Policy Council, Gender Policy Council, the offices of Jill Biden and Vice President Harris; the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Legislative Affairs, the Office of Public Engagement, along with additional members “as needed.”
Coordinator and “call to action”
As part of the revived Moonshot, Biden’s Administration also plans to:
- Establish a White House Cancer Moonshot coordinator based within the Executive Office of the President.
- Issue a “call to action” to deliver a message of urgency on the need for increased cancer screening and early detection. According to the White House, American patients have missed more than 9.5 million cancer screenings due to COVID-19. The call to action will include efforts to promote at-home screening, especially for colon cancer and human papillomavirus (HPV); and mobile screening through community health networks established during the pandemic.
- Reach at-risk individuals by carrying out screening through NCI cancer centers, and other networks such as the NCI Community Oncology Research Network (NCORP). Biden’s Administration this week released a report, “Closing Gaps in Cancer Screening,” which laid out recommendations for increase equity and access in screening through “connecting people, communities, and systems.”
- Study and evaluate multicancer detection tests through federal agencies led by the NCI.
- Accelerate efforts to “nearly eliminate” cervical cancer, especially in at-risk patients, through screening and HPV vaccination.
- Host a White House Cancer Moonshot “Summit” meeting designed to bring together federal agencies, patient organizations, biopharmaceutical companies, researchers, and public health and healthcare professionals “to highlight innovation, progress, and new commitments toward ending cancer as we know it.”
- Continue the White House Cancer Roundtable Conversation Series of the past six months, featuring experts, including people living with cancer, caregivers, and survivors. The discussions have focused on cancer prevention, early detection, clinical trial design and access, patient support and navigation, childhood cancer, and equity in access and outcomes.
- Urge businesses, foundations, academic institutions, healthcare providers, and all Americans to join with the federal government in reducing the deadly impact of cancer and improving patient experiences in the diagnosis, treatment, and survival of cancer. The Administration is urging individual Americans to share their perspectives, and encouraging organizations, companies, and institutions to share planned actions at the White House’s Cancer Moonshot page.
Advocacy, community support, industry concerns
The revived Moonshot won support from the cancer research funding advocacy group Friends of Cancer Research.
“We applaud the ambitious new goals and objectives that will be instrumental in changing the trajectory of cancer care and treatment and ending cancer as we know it today,” said Friends of Cancer Research chair & founder, Ellen Sigal. “The Moonshot’s principles, partnerships, and resources will continue to accelerate the incredible progress that has and continues to be made.”
Taking a more measured stance was the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). Stephen J. Ubi, PhRMA’s president and CEO, combined support for the latest federal cancer-fighting effort with criticism of curbing drug prices.
“The science has never been more promising, but to have a successful moonshot, we cannot compromise the engine of innovation that is taking us there,” Ubi said. “That’s why we continue to urge lawmakers to reject any plan that would impose government price-setting on innovative medicines.”
In December, President Biden proposed imposing a “steep” excise tax on drug developers that refuse to negotiate prices with Medicare, as well as setting a $2,000 annual cap on out-of-pocket costs for people 65 or older, and setting penalties on companies that raise Medicare Part B and D drug prices above the inflation rate.
President Biden also proposed that Medicare begin in 2023 to negotiate the prices on 10 of the costliest drugs that have only one supplier, in diseases that include cancer. New prices would take effect in 2025. The number of drugs subject to negotiations would grow each year, reaching 20 in 2028.
President Biden headed the original Moonshot effort that was launched in 2016 by then-President Barack Obama. At the time, President Biden articulated two priorities for Moonshot: Increasing public and private resources to fight cancer, as well as greater collaboration and sharing of information between researchers: “The goal of this initiative is simple—to double the rate of progress; to make a decade worth of advances in five years.”
Based on the Moonshot goals, Congress approved and Obama enacted the $1.8 billion 21st Century Cures Act, a seven-year measure to increase funding for cancer research, including cancer disparities, establish new clinical trial networks, and fund “innovative” projects examining childhood cancer.