In a nod to JFK, Biden pushes ‘moonshot’ to fight cancer

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden is set to channel John F. Kennedy on the 60th anniversary of JFK’s lunar speech, highlighting the Biden administration’s efforts to “end cancer as we know it.”

The president was traveling to Boston on Monday to draw attention to a new federally-backed study that seeks to validate the use of blood tests to screen for multiple cancers – a potential change in diagnostic tests to dramatically improve early detection cancers. He also has other announcements planned to improve the lives of people with cancer.

His speech at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum comes as Biden seeks to rally the nation around developing treatments and therapeutics for the pervasive diseases the Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention rank as the second killer of people in the United States after heart disease. Biden hopes to bring the United States closer to the goal he set in February of reducing the number of cancer deaths in the United States by 50% over the next 25 years and dramatically improving the lives of caregivers and people with cancer.

Danielle Carnival, White House cancer coordinator for Moonshot, told The Associated Press that the administration sees tremendous potential in the early blood diagnostic study in identifying and treating cancers.

“One of the most promising technologies has been the development of blood tests that offer the promise of detecting multiple cancers in a single blood test and really imagining the impact this could have on our ability to detect cancer in a meaningful way. earlier and fairer,” Carnival said. “We think the best way to get us to where these are being made is to really test the technologies we have today and see what works and what really has an impact on prolonging life. life.”

In 2022, the American Cancer Society an estimated 1.9 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed and 609,360 people will die of cancerous diseases.

The problem is personal to Biden, who lost his adult son Beau in 2015 to brain cancer. After Beau’s death, Congress passed the 21st century remedies lawwhich committed $1.8 billion over seven years to cancer research and was signed into law in 2016 by President Barack Obama.

Obama appointed then-vice president Biden to lead “mission control” over the direction of cancer funds in recognition of Biden’s grief as a parent and a desire to do something about it. Biden wrote in his memoir “Promise Me, Dad” that he chose not to run for president in 2016 primarily because of Beau’s death.

Despite Biden’s attempts to backtrack on Kennedy and his space program, the current initiative lacks the same level of budget support. The Apollo program has prompted massive public investment – ​​over $20 billion, or over $220 billion in inflation-adjusted 2022 dollars. Biden’s “moonshot” effort is much smaller and dependent on private sector investment.

Yet Biden has tried to maintain the momentum of public health research investments, including championing the Agency for Advanced Research Projects for Healthinspired by similar research and development initiatives for the benefit of the Pentagon and the intelligence community.

On Monday, Biden will announce Dr. Renee Wegrzyn as the inaugural director of ARPA-H, which has been tasked with studying treatments and potential cures for cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and other illnesses. . He will also announce a new National Cancer Institute Scholars Program to provide resources to early career scientists studying cancer treatments and cures.

Experts agree it’s far too soon to tell whether these new blood tests to detect cancer in healthy people will have any effect on cancer deaths. No studies have shown that they reduce the risk of dying from cancer. Still, they say it’s important to set an ambitious goal.

Carnival says it National Cancer Institute The study was designed so that any promising diagnostic results could be rapidly put into large-scale practice while the longer-term study – which is expected to last up to a decade – progresses. She said the goal was to move closer to a future where cancers could be detected through routine blood tests, potentially replacing more invasive and burdensome procedures like colonoscopies, and therefore saving lives.

Scientists now understand that cancer is not a single disease, but hundreds of diseases that respond differently to different treatments. Some cancers have biomarkers that can be targeted by existing drugs that will slow the growth of a tumor. Many other targets are waiting to be discovered.

“How do we know which therapies are effective in which disease subtypes? For me, it’s oceanic,” said Donald A. Berry, a biostatistician at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. “The possibilities are enormous. The challenges are enormous. »

Despite the challenges, he is optimistic that the cancer death rate will be cut in half over the next 25 years.

“We can reach that 50% goal by slowing disease in the different cancers enough without curing anyone,” Berry said. “If I had to bet that we would achieve that 50% reduction, I would bet we would.”

Even without new breakthroughs, progress can be made in making care more equitable, said Dr. Crystal Denlinger, scientific director of the Comprehensive National Cancer Networka group of elite cancer centers.

And any effort to reduce the cancer death rate will have to focus on the biggest killer of cancer, which is lung cancer. Primarily attributable to smoking, lung cancer now causes more cancer deaths than any other cancer. Of the 1,670 daily cancer deaths in the United States, more than 350 are due to lung cancer.

Lung cancer screening assistance. The American Cancer Society says such screening has helped lower the cancer death rate by 32% from its peak in 1991 to 2019, the most recent year for which figures are available.

But only 5% of eligible patients are screened for lung cancer.

“It’s tragic,” said Dr. Roy Herbst, a pulmonologist at Yale Cancer Center.

“The moonshot is going to have to be a social solution as well as a scientific and medical solution,” Herbst said. “We’re going to have to find a way that testing becomes easier, that it’s fully covered, that we have more testing facilities.”

Biden planned to urge Americans who may have delayed cancer screenings during the pandemic to seek them out quickly, reminding them that early detection can be key to avoiding adverse outcomes.

He was also expected to highlight provisions in the Democrats’ health care and climate change bill that the administration says will reduce reimbursable drug prices for some widely used cancer treatments. It will also celebrate new benefits for veterans exposed to toxic burn outbreaks, which cover their potential cancer diagnoses.

Dr. Michael Hassett of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, said Biden’s goal of reducing cancer deaths could be achieved by following two parallel paths: one of discovery and the other of ensuring that as many people as possible benefit from the benefits of existing therapies and preventive approaches.

“If we can address both aspects, both challenges, major breakthroughs are possible,” Hassett said.

In the case of breast cancer, for example, many women who could benefit from a hormone-blocking pill never start treatment or stop taking it before the recommended five years, according to Hassett’s research.

“Those are big gaps,” Hassett said. “It is a treatment that is effective. But if a lot of people don’t take the drug, or if they take it but stop it before completing the treatment, then the benefits the drug might offer are not realized.


Johnson reported from Seattle.

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