President Joe Biden on Monday delivered a speech outlining his plans and new actions to speed up cancer research as part of his Cancer Moonshot initiative, which aims to cut the cancer death rate in half over the next 25 years.
In the speech, Biden noted that cancer is often diagnosed too late, adding that "there are too few ways to prevent it in the first place," and that there are significant inequities in cancer diagnosis and treatment based on race, disability, zip code, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
"We know too little about why treatments work for some patients, but a different patient with the same disease, it doesn't work for. We still lack strategies in developing treatments for some cancers," Biden said, adding the United States doesn't "do enough to help patients and families navigate the cancer care system."
As part of the initiative, Biden named Renee Wegrzyn as head of the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), a new agency that "will have the singular purpose to drive breakthroughs to prevent, detect, and treat diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, and other diseases and enable us to live healthier lives," Biden said.
Wegrzyn is currently the VP of business development at Ginkgo Bioworks and is head of innovation at Concentric by Ginkgo. Wegrzyn also formerly worked as program manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Biological Technologies Office.
"Some of the problems we face every day—especially in health and disease—are so large they can seem insurmountable," Wegrzyn said in a statement. "I have seen firsthand the tremendous expertise and energy the U.S. biomedical and biotechnological enterprise can bring to solve some of the toughest health challenges."
According to Francis Collins, former NIH director and current acting science advisor for Biden, ARPA-H will be populated by "brilliant visionary talents" who are going to invest in untested approaches to disease treatments.
Biden also announced on Monday he signed an executive order that will launch a National Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Initiative with the goal of ensuring "cutting-edge biotechnologies necessary to end cancer as we know it, and other innovations, will be developed and manufactured in America," according to a White House fact sheet. "This will save lives, create jobs at home, build stronger supply chains, and lower prices for American families even in times of global turbulence."
The White House also said it's expanding the Cancer Research Data Ecosystem, which it said is "a national data infrastructure that encourages data-sharing to support cancer care for individual patients and enables discovery of new treatments."
"This cancer moonshot is one of the reasons why I ran for president," Biden said. "Cancer does not discriminate red and blue. It doesn't care if you're a Republican or a Democrat. Beating cancer is something we can do together." (Shivaram, NPR, 9/12; Frieden, MedPage Today, 9/12; Stolberg, New York Times, 9/12)
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