Shooting for the moon: Cancer Moonshot seeks to drastically reduce cancer death rate


Credit: Kally Proctor

President Biden outlines new goals for the federal “Cancer Moonshot” program in a speech made in Boston last Monday. This initiative is dedicated to decreasing cancer deaths by 50% over the next 25 years. “I’m setting a long-term goal for the Cancer Moonshot to rally America and ingenuity that we can engage, like we did to reach the moon, that actually cures cancers… once and for all,” President Biden said.

Kally Proctor

Last Monday, President Joe Biden took the stage at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston with the purpose of delivering a speech about one of the leading causes of death worldwide, cancer. President Biden’s aim was to kick the United States’ “Cancer Moonshot” initiative into high gear, declaring its next phase and new goal, but what is Cancer Moonshot?

Cancer Breakthroughs, also known as Cancer Moonshot, is a coalition with the goal of finding vaccine-based immunotherapies against cancer. The initiative was initially launched in 2016 by President Obama through the 21st Century Cures Act. At the time, then Vice President Biden was tasked with spearheading the initiative, a personal issue for him given the loss of his son Beau to brain cancer in 2015.

Currently, the initiative seeks to prevent deaths from cancer by trying to increase the speed of discovering new treatments and improving prevention, detection and treatment for those suffering from the disease. The main goal of the initiative is to reduce the death rate from cancer by 50% over the next 25 years.

Both the backdrop and the timing of President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot speech was no accident. Biden purposefully drew back to former President Kennedy’s speech at Rice University in Houston 60 years ago regarding winning the race against Russia to land the first man on the moon. In fact, the initiative’s name itself, “Cancer Moonshot,” was derived from Kennedy’s literal moonshot speech.

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard,” former President Kennedy said.

While former President Kennedy took a more poetic approach to his speech, President Biden decided to be practical in his speech.

“I’m setting a long-term goal for the Cancer Moonshot to rally America and [inspire] ingenuity that we can engage, like we did to reach the moon, that actually cures cancers… once and for all,” President Biden said. “As part of the supercharged Moonshot, I’ll use my authorities as President to increase funding to break logjams and speed breakthroughs.”

President Biden also called on Americans to imagine new possibilities, including vaccines to prevent cancer, molecular ZIP Codes for drug delivery, precision gene therapy, blood tests to promote early cancer detection, quick and easy shots to replace painful chemo and the development of new medicines in lieu of invasive hospital treatments.

The President highlighted the creation of the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), and the appointment of Dr. Renee Wegryzn, whom he referred to as a “leading biomedical scientist,” as its inaugural director. He charged ARPA-H with responsibility to “drive breakthroughs to prevent, detect and treat diseases.”

In addition to his Moonshot challenge, Biden predicted that ARPA-H “will emerge as a new and exciting member of America’s biomedical ecosystem.”

He also established one ground rule, signing an executive order mandating that biotechnologies invented in the U.S. be manufactured in the U.S.

Since its establishment in 2016, Cancer Moonshot has made numerous advancements in cancer research. These accomplishments include improving immunotherapy, advancing childhood cancer research and more. The initiative has continued to seek to prevent cancer deaths by trying to speed the discovery of new treatments and improve the prevention, detection and treatment of those suffering from the disease.

Aside from shining a new spotlight on Cancer Moonshot, President Biden announced numerous initiatives for the program, including ARPA-H and the formation of a “Cancer Cabinet” to coordinate resources and capabilities within government agencies and departments, such as NASA, Defense and Energy.

While many advancements have already been made, the effort to treat, and ultimately cure, cancer will continue on for years to come. Doctors and scientists continue to work and increase their knowledge to tackle the issue of cancer and eventually cure it.

Every generation has a goal, as Biden alluded to during his speech. In JFK’s time, that goal was to land a human on the moon. People have accomplished amazing things all throughout history, and for Biden, curing cancer is yet another feat we will achieve. It’s only a matter of when.