Biden channels JFK in ‘moonshot speech,’ highlights administration’s efforts fighting cancer

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Speaking on the 60th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s famous moonshot speech, in which he vowed to send a man to the moon by the end of the decade, President Biden outlined his administration’s plan to cut the U.S. death rate from cancer in half over the next quarter-century.

The president said the nation – as it was in the early 1960s – is at an inflection point and vowed to organize and measure the best of the country’s energies and skills to end, and even cure, cancer “once and for all.” 

President Joe Biden speaks on the cancer moonshot initiative at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, Monday, Sept. 12, 2022, in Boston.
(AP Photo/Josh Reynolds)

Biden, who shared the stage with Kennedy’s daughter, U.S. ambassador to Australia Caroline Kennedy, and her son, John Schlossberg, highlighted the enormous progress made in the last half-century since President Nixon signed the National Cancer Act but lamented that it still remains the second-highest killer of people in the U.S. after heart disease.  

“Cancer does not (discriminate) between red and blue. It doesn’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat. Beating cancer is something we can do together,” Biden said told the crowd at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.


Biden also addressed the difficulties poised by information silos and healthcare costs that make treatments out of reach for many people. 

“To address inequities, we can ensure prevention, detection, treatment, reach patients in urban, rural, suburban and tribal communities, so they have equal access to cancer diagnostics, therapeutics, and clinical trials,” Biden said. “As part of the supercharge moonshot, I’ll use my authority as president to increase funding, to … break logjams, to speed breakthroughs.” 

X-Ray Slides of a Patient with Prostate Cancer

X-Ray Slides of a Patient with Prostate Cancer

The president was traveling to Boston on Monday to draw attention to a new federally backed study that seeks evidence for using blood tests to screen against multiple cancers — a potential game-changer in diagnostic testing to dramatically improve early detection of cancers. 

The speech came as the president seeks to rally the nation around developing treatments and therapeutics for the pervasive diseases. Biden reiterated his vision to move the U.S. closer to the goal he set in February of cutting U.S. cancer fatalities by 50% over the next 25 years and to dramatically improve the lives of caregivers and those suffering from cancer. 

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


The issue is personal to Biden, who lost his adult son Beau in 2015 to brain cancer. After Beau’s death, Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act, which dedicated $1.8 billion over seven years for cancer research and was signed into law in 2016 by President Barack Obama.

Obama designated Biden, then vice president, to run “mission control” on directing the cancer funds as a recognition of Biden’s grief as a parent and desire to do something about it. 

Biden has tried to maintain momentum for investments in public health research, including championing the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, modeled after similar research and development initiatives benefiting the Pentagon and intelligence community.

FILE - In this file photo, a radiologist compares an image from earlier, 2-D technology mammogram to the new 3-D Digital Breast Tomosynthesis mammography.

FILE – In this file photo, a radiologist compares an image from earlier, 2-D technology mammogram to the new 3-D Digital Breast Tomosynthesis mammography.

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

Experts agree it’s far too early to say whether these new blood tests for finding cancer in healthy people will have any effect on cancer deaths. There have been no studies to show they reduce the risk of dying from cancer. Still, they say setting an ambitious goal is important.


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 a tumor’s growth. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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