President Joe Biden will revive his moonshot initiative to expedite progress on cancer treatments and prevention and detection capabilities, bringing back a signature program he led in his final year as vice president.
The 2016 cancer moonshot aimed to “end cancer as we know it” as Biden would often say, by focusing on advancing scientific discovery, improving collaboration and data sharing and setting up a number of public-private partnerships. The new moonshot will focus on reducing the disease’s death rate by at least 50% in the next 25 years.
“A lot has changed that makes it possible to set really ambitious goals right now,” a senior administration official said at a press briefing for reporters. The mRNA technology used to develop coronavirus vaccines could also stop cancer cells from growing.
The death rate from cancer has fallen by 25% in the last two decades thanks to prevention and new treatments.
Ending cancer as we know it has remained a top priority for Biden since his last tour in the White House. After the end of the President Barack Obama’s presidency, he and his wife, Jill Biden, set up a now-suspended Biden Cancer Initiative and held a cancer summit in 2018.
The commitment to improving cancer outcomes was one of the reasons Biden decided to run president, he said at a White House event Wednesday. “Now that I am president, this is a presidential White House priority—period.”
Biden held a bipartisan cancer summit March 3, 2021, just six weeks after taking office.
The latest initiative will “supercharge” the cancer moonshot as as a central effort of the Biden-Harris administration, the president said.
“It is bold. It’s ambitious. and it’s completely doable” Biden said. “Just as we harnessed the science to develop cutting edge Covid-19 vaccines and treatments, we’ll bring a fierce sense of urgency to fight against cancer.”
The latest effort to reignite the cancer moonshot signals “that now is the time to take a bold new step to transform cancer research and care. A recommitment to the moonshot principles, partnerships, and resources will build on the previous accomplishments and continue to accelerate progress,” Ellen V. Sigal chairperson and founder of Friends of Cancer Research, said in an email.
The announcement comes as money to fund the moonshot effort will hit a funding cliff in the next year and a half, leaving more than 240 research projects without money to continue that work. The 2016 biomedical innovation law 21st Century Cures (
The White House official didn’t specify where funding for the moonshot initiative would come from but said the administration is “very confident there is robust support for it.” Biden is expected to release his proposed budget around the time of his State of the Union speech to Congress March 1.
A cancer moonshot progress report published last year by the National Cancer Institute found the initiative has made strides in a number of areas such as improving immunotherapy, advancing childhood cancer research, and better engagement with patients.
Senior administration officials said some of the initiative’s previous advancements “were on the prevention side” rather than the treatment side. The Biden administration will focus on both treatment and prevention, aiming for a slow reduction in death rate rather than seeking to “cure cancer all at once.”
The initial cancer moonshot put in motion foundational changes, Sigal said. “These types of projects have instigated notable progress already, but now isn’t the time to take the foot off the accelerator,” she said.
“The original moonshot demonstrated that it was possible to compress a decade’s worth of progress into a few short years. We can’t afford to not make that opportunity a reality again.”
Cancer remains one of the leading causes of death worldwide, with 18.1 million new cases and 9.5 million cancer-related deaths. The NCI, part of the National Institutes of Health, projects that the number of cases will rise to 29.5 million and 16.4 million deaths by 2040.
“Cancer changes everyone it touches and in some ways it touches us all. For me and Joe, it has stolen our joy. It left us broken in our grief,” Jill Biden said Wednesday at the White House event. “A cancer diagnosis today may still leave us feeling hopeless. But we are not hopeless ,and we are not helpless. We are living in a golden age of research and discovery.”
The cancer death rate in the U.S. continues to go down since peaking in 1992, primarily due to drops in common cancers such a lung, breast, and prostate cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
“Death rates for certain cancers are going down, and the technologies are emerging to accomplish that in many more. I hope this is the recommitment to make that goal a reality across all cancers,” Sigal said.
NCI Director Ned Sharpless said last spring it’s possible to eradicate a vast majority of cancer deaths, particularly in young and otherwise healthy people, especially if Biden’s proposal to establish a new medical research agency known as the AdvancedResearch Projects Agency for Health comes to fruition.
The president also made a commitment to:
- Name a White House cancer moonshot coordinator in the executive office
- Form a cancer cabinet to promote cross-agency collaboration addressing cancer
- Encourage cancer screening and early detection, particularly for patients who missed their screenings due to the Covid-19 pandemic
- Host a sumit for White House leadership to engage with researchers and advocates