On Wednesday, President Joe Biden addressed the nation from the White House, announcing that he plans to restart the Operation Moonshot program with a goal of cutting cancer deaths by half within the next quarter century.
This initiative was established by President Barack Obama in 2015, and, at the time, he put then-VP Joe Biden at “mission control” of the program. Obama did so as the Bidens had lost their son, Beau, to brain cancer. In a memoir released later, Biden wrote that he did not run for president in 2016 chiefly due to Beau’s untimely death. However, the president would later say that one of his biggest regrets was deciding not to run because “(he) would have wanted to have been the president who ended cancer, because it’s possible.”
Biden appears to have taken up the effort once again with the announcement of this goal. He spoke on Wednesday before a group of lawmakers as well as White House officials and reporters: “This can really be an American moment to prove to ourselves, and quite frankly, the world that we can do really big things.”
When President Obama announced the unfurling of Operation Moonshot, he allocated $1.8 billion over a seven-year period. Biden’s announcement did not include any new funding to propel the goal.
Biden isn’t the first president to vow to eradicate a disease that takes the lives of at least 600,000 Americans each year. Fifty years ago, President Richard Nixon signed into law the National Cancer Act. Scientists say that the law made cancer research and the treatment of cancer a priority, and, over time, this law added 14 million years of life to Americans.
While this does seem to be a lofty goal – some might say it is unreachable – when one looks at developments in cancer research and treatment since Nixon initially began the “War on Cancer,” Biden’s idea is possible. In 2021, the cancer death rate among Americans was 146 per 100,000; in 2000, just two decades ago, the rate was 200 per that same group. Statistically, that means the cancer death rate has already fallen by 25 percent in the last two decades.
A professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins University said that the advances made to date have already provided “a better understanding of the biology of cancer and will do even more for us in the future. . . the progress in cancer research is slow – some of the fruits of Nixon’s 1971 declaration were only harvested with the development of the COVID mRNA vaccine.”
It is possible one way the Biden goal can be met is by encouraging education. Dr. Barron Lerner, a medical professor at New York University, said that although Biden’s goal appears “hyperbolic,” his announcement could assist in garnering public attention. He also added that it is “extremely unlikely” that the fifty percent reduction can be attained. He cited the fact that cancer takes many forms, each requiring their own “complicated research.”
The President did not offer additional funding for the initiative, but hopes that increased screening is one benefit of his announcement. He also wants to address “inequities in treatment” as a part of the initiative.
It is important to note that although President Donald Trump did not give a great deal of lip service to cancer treatment, he did pledge $500 million between 2019 and 2029 for pediatric cancer research.
After Biden’s term in the Obama Administration ended, he established the Biden Cancer Initiative, whose mission was to “organize resources to improve cancer care.”