Obama Aims Anti-Cancer ‘Moonshot’ With Biden Steering Investment

  • Biden makes cancer research priority after son Beau's death
  • New task force doesn't include drug industry representatives

Vice President Joe Biden points at President Barack Obama during the State of the Union address in Washington on Jan. 12, 2016.

President Barack Obama on Thursday created a task force intended to marshal resources across the federal government to prevent, treat and cure cancer and appointed Vice President Joe Biden to lead the group.

The panel will hold its first meeting on Monday. Its mission is to examine cancer spending by the government, private sector and the philanthropic community and accelerate breakthroughs against the disease, which last year claimed the life of Biden’s oldest son, Beau, at age 46. His death left the vice president in mourning for months and helped dissuade Biden from running for president.

“We’re on the cusp of incredible breakthroughs in both research and therapies,” Biden, who has called for a “moonshot” to cure cancer, wrote in a Medium.com post on Thursday. “In just the last decade or less, we’ve seen amazing advances in immunotherapy, in genomics, in virology and combination therapies. The task before us is to break through some of the barriers and do what we can to help speed up the progress.”

The group aims to double the pace of research on cancer cures, and represents a piece of the legacy Obama hopes to establish in his last year in office.

No Private Sector

The task force will include representatives from at least 13 federal bodies, including the Food and Drug Administration and National Cancer Institute, according to a White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity before Obama signed the memorandum. The advisory group won’t include private sector representatives. Biden and his staff have been meeting with researchers to discuss the state of cancer research and treatment.

Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican who chairs the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, is working on legislation intended to speed development and approval of new drugs and other treatments. Obama’s task force "sets the stage for the Senate to get a bipartisan result," he said.

The National Cancer Institute’s budget was cut after Republicans won control of the House of Representatives in the 2010 elections, falling from $5.1 billion that year to $4.8 billion in 2013. A spending deal Obama struck with Congress for fiscal 2016 raises the agency’s budget to $5.2 billion. Progress on treating and curing cancer has suffered, said Scott Lilly, a budget researcher at the Center for American Progress and former Democratic staff director of the House Appropriations Committee.

“We invested so much in the human genome project, and there is an incredible amount of information. We can differentiate forms of cancer that we couldn’t before,” Lilly said in a phone interview. “And yet when we got the genome finished, we started cutting the research to mine that data and make new therapies available.”

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