Biden highlights new cancer-screening test

Biden travels to Boston on Monday to advocate for a new, potentially game-changing cancer screening tool.

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will channel John F. Kennedy on the 60th anniversary of JFK’s moonshot speech, highlighting the Biden administration’s efforts aimed at “ending cancer as we know it.”

The President traveled to Boston on Monday to draw attention to a new federally-backed study designed to validate the use of blood tests to screen for multiple cancers — a potential game-changer in diagnostic testing to dramatically improve early cancer detection . He also planned other announcements that would improve the lives of cancer patients.

His speech at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum comes as Biden tries to rally the nation to develop treatments and therapeutics for the widespread diseases that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks as the second leading cause of death in the United States classify heart disease. Biden hopes to bring the US closer to his February goal of reducing US cancer deaths by 50% over the next 25 years and dramatically improving the lives of caregivers and cancer sufferers.

Danielle Carnival, the Moonshot White House cancer coordinator, told The Associated Press that the government sees tremendous potential in beginning the blood diagnostic study to detect and treat cancer.

“One of the most promising technologies has been the development of blood tests, which promise to be able to detect multiple types of cancer in a single blood test, and to really imagine the impact that could have on our ability to detect cancer early and more fairly,” Karneval said. “We think the best way to get us to the place where these are realized is to really test the technologies that we have today and see what works and what really translates to life extension affects.”

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

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

Obama appointed Biden, then vice president, to lead “mission control” at the head of the cancer fund 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 it was largely because of Beau’s death that he decided not to run for president in 2016.

Despite Biden’s attempts to draw on Kennedy and his space program, the current initiative lacks the same level of financial backing. The Apollo program has attracted massive public investment – more than $20 billion, or more than $220 billion in 2022, adjusted for inflation. Biden’s “moonshot” effort is far more modest and relies on private sector investment.

Still, Biden has attempted to maintain momentum for investment in public health research, including funding the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, modeled after similar research and development initiatives that benefit the Pentagon and the intelligence community.

On Monday, Biden will become Dr. Announcing Renee Wegrzyn as the inaugural director of ARPA-H, tasked with investigating treatments and potential cures for cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and other diseases. He will also announce a new National Cancer Institute grant 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 to detect cancer in healthy people will have an impact on cancer deaths. There are no studies showing that they reduce the risk of dying from cancer. Still, they say it’s important to set an ambitious goal.

Carnival said the National Cancer Institute study is designed so that promising diagnostic results could be rapidly translated into mainstream practice while the longer-term study — expected to last up to a decade — moves forward. She said the goal is to get closer to a future where cancer could be detected through routine blood tests, potentially replacing more invasive and burdensome procedures like colonoscopies, and thus 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 slow a tumor’s growth. Many more destinations are waiting to be discovered.

“How do we know which therapies are effective in which subtypes of diseases? That’s oceanic to me,” 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 of halving the cancer death rate in the next 25 years.

“We can reach that 50 percent target by slowing down enough of the disease in the different types of cancer without curing anyone,” Berry said. “If I had to bet on whether we’d get that 50 percent reduction, I’d bet yes.”

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

And all efforts to reduce the cancer death rate must focus on the biggest cancer killer, lung cancer. Lung cancer, mainly due to smoking, 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 prevention helps. The American Cancer Society says such screening has helped reduce the cancer death rate by 32% from its peak in 1991 through 2019, the latest year for which numbers are available.

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

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

“The moonshot has to be a social solution as well as a scientific and medical solution,” Herbst said. “We need to find a way that screening becomes easier, that it’s fully covered, that we have more screening 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 the key to avoiding unwanted consequences.

He should also highlight provisions in the Democrats’ Health and Climate Protection Act that the administration believes will lower the price of out-of-pocket drugs for some common cancer treatments. He will also celebrate new guarantees for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits that cover their potential cancer diagnoses.

dr Michael Hassett of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston said Biden’s goal of reducing cancer deaths can be achieved by following two parallel paths: one of discovery and the other of making sure as many people as possible get the benefits existing and preventive therapies benefit approaches.

“If we can address both aspects, both challenges, great progress is possible,” Hassett said.

With breast cancer, for example, many women who could benefit from hormone-blocking pills either never start therapy or stop taking it before the recommended five years, Hassett’s research found.

“These are big gaps,” Hassett said. “This is an effective treatment. But if many people don’t take this drug, or if they do take it but stop it before completing therapy, the benefits that the drug could offer won’t be realized.”

Johnson reported from Seattle. Biden highlights new cancer-screening test

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