6:32 P.M. EST
MR. MUNOZ: Hey, everybody. Thank you for joining tonight’s call on how the President plans to reignite the Cancer Moonshot to end cancer as we know it.
As a reminder, this call will be attributable to “senior administration officials” and be embargoed until tomorrow a.m. — at 5:00 a.m.
Joining us on tonight’s call is [senior administration official]. Also joining us is [senior administration official]. We have some remarks at the top from both of them, and we’ll have time for questions at the end. And we ask that you keep questions relevant to the Cancer Moonshot.
And with that, I will turn it to [senior administration official].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you so much. Welcome, everybody. I’m [redacted]. I’m joined by [senior administration official, who [redacted]. [Redacted] and will have lots to say, and we’ll both speak back and forth on the effort.
So, today, we’re going to preview this announcement that the President will be making tomorrow. You’ve got the factsheet. And just to confirm, we’ll be speaking on background, and the news is under embargo until 5:00 a.m. Eastern tomorrow.
So, just to set the stage, you will all recall that as Vice President, in 2016, Joe Biden led the Cancer Moonshot with the mission of accelerating the rate of progress against cancer. And the cancer community and the patient community and medical researchers responded with tremendous energy and ingenuity. And there’s been a lot of progress that has come since then.
And because of that and because of the amazing possibilities ahead, tomorrow, in remarks here at the White House, President Biden is going to reignite the Cancer Moonshot.
So, [senior administration official]?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, I’ll give a little bit of a preview of what the event will look like. It will take place in the East Room of the White House. The First Lady and the Vice President will also give remarks. And we will lay out, as [senior administration official] said, the President’s plan, this administration’s plan around the Cancer Moonshot.
In attendance in the room will be about 100 members of the cancer community, from patients and survivors, their caregivers and families, advocacy organizations, research organizations and individual researchers, and those from the healthcare community, representatives from industry, members of Congress, members of the Cabinet, and beyond.
So we’ll have a big event, really setting the stage for this announcement.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, why is the President reigniting the Cancer Moonshot? Well, because a lot has changed that makes it possible to set really ambitious goals right now.
The Cancer Moonshot was launched five years ago, and lots has happened. In addition, I have to say that the scientific advances that we saw from the COVID-19 pandemic, from the response to it, also points to things that are possible today.
So, for all those reasons, the President is going to set some very ambitious goals: Number one, to reduce the death rate from cancer by at least 50 percent over the next 25 years — I’ll put that in context in a moment of what that means — and to really substantially improve the experience of people and their families living and surviving with cancer. And by doing these things and more — two, as the President likes to say and will say: to end cancer as we know it today.
Now, the President and the First Lady are also going to announce, very importantly, a call to action on cancer screening to jumpstart progress on screenings that were missed as a result of the pandemic, and help ensure that everybody equitably benefits from the tools that we already have to prevent and detect and diagnose cancer, which are extremely valuable and we need to get everybody to be able to take full advantage of those.
So, let me — let me review, just very briefly, how we got here, what’s come before. And then I will turn it a little bit, after [senior administration official] leaves (inaudible), to what exactly we mean by “end cancer as we know it.”
So — but let’s go back. You know, 50 years ago, the National Cancer Institu- — the National Cancer Act was passed. And, you know, for the first 25 years or so, you really didn’t see much change in the death rate from cancer — this age-adjusted death rate that gets measured. It was pretty flat for a long time. And then we began to see a decrease.
And over the last 20 or so years, the age-adjusted death rate from cancer has fallen by about 25 percent. And that is really remarkable. It had been flat, and now it fell by 25 percent, which means many more people are surviving cancer, living longer after being diagnosed with cancer.
And it wasn’t one thing; it was progress on multiple fronts. It includes:
Following that year, she launched the Biden Breast Health Initiative to educate Delaware high school girls about the importance of cancer prevention.
As First Lady, she continues her work emphasizing early detection efforts and the patient, family, and caregiver experience with cancer.
She will also stress the importance of cancer screenings, especially those delayed or put off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and will urge government partners, the business community, and non-profit sectors to help make screenings more accessible and available to all.
So we just really wanted to reiterate the Biden-Harris administration has prioritized this from the beginning, in addition to prioritizing strengthening healthcare for the American people in a number of other ways, by lowering healthcare costs and expanding coverage.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, let me turn to what the President is going to lay out as goals and to what they mean.
So, President Biden tomorrow is going to set national goals for the Cancer Moonshot, as I said, by working together over the next 25 years to cut today’s age-adjusted death rate from cancer by at least 50 percent from where we are today, and to improve the experience of people and their families living with and surviving cancer. And again, taken together with these and other actions, it would drive us to ending cancer as we know it.
Well, how do we know cancer? To explain what we mean by that, we have to ask, “How do we know cancer today?” Well, I’m going to give you seven ways we know cancer today that we think we can make really substantial progress in changing pretty dramatically.
Number one, you know, we know cancer is a disease where we have too few effective ways to prevent it. There are some: Don’t smoke, for example. But we don’t have lots of effective ways right now to prevent cancer.
Number two, this is a disease where we just usually diagnose it too late. Early diagnosis is so important. But way too often, we diagnose it too late.
Number three, it’s a disease where we know too little about why treatments work well for some patients and fail to work for other patients.
Number four, we still have too many cancer types for which we still lack good strategies for developing treatments.
Number five, we still have stark inequities in diagnosis, access to treatments and clinical trials, and inequities in patient outcomes based on race, on region, on resources.
Number six, a disease where we leave most patients and families to have to navigate the disease and its aftermath on their own.
And number seven, we know cancer today is a disease where we just don’t learn from most patients’ experiences.
These are seven concrete ways in which we know cancer today. And every one of them, there is a lot to do to change. Some of them are about science; there’s new scientific opportunities that are possible. Some of them are about policy. And some of them are just about being absolutely determined to work some of these problems until they get solved.
So, let me elaborate on some of these seven ways which we cancer. I said we have few effective ways to prevent it. Well, there’s everything from expanding screening for inherited cancer risk, figuring out who’s inherited a cancer gene. We do that in some cases, but it’s not really broadly done.
But at a scientific end, we can also take lessons from the mRNA vaccines that were developed against the COVID-19 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — by asking, “Can we make mRNA vaccines that teach your immune system to recognize the distinctive mutations that occur in cancer cells?”
There’s a lot of thinking right now that things like that could cause your body to be able to recognize and attack those early cancer cells before there’s even any tumor to see and could decrease the overall incidence.
We diagnose too late. What can you do about that? Well, there’s a lot of — a lot of work going on right now about ideas like maybe an annual blood test to detect dozens of cancers simultaneously based on free-floating DNA in the blood. You know, ideas like that will take a lot of work. They’re going to have to be clinically tested to prove that they really save lives and they’re going to have to be affordable enough to roll out to the American people. But there is real, concrete work to do that could lead to prevention, that can lead to early diagnosis,
You know, stark inequities. We really have to target prevention and early detection to those who need it most and those who just can’t take advantage of it usually, for lots of reasons. There are all sorts of reasons that people can’t, say, participate in clinical trials if it means having to go to a major academic medical center. But, well, you even learned from the pandemic that clinical trials can happen out in community hospitals, and telehealth and local sample collection can make a big difference.
And there are people who can’t take advantage of diagnosis and treatment because just the out-of-pocket costs can be a real barrier — just transportation, time off from work, childcare.
So taking on those inequities which affect — you know, which are associated with higher mortality rates in different populations — in the Black population for certain cancers, in rural populations for certain cancers.
You know, I said where we know too little about why they work in some patients and not others — there are ways now to figure out, if we really apply our tools, which treatments work for which patients, but we’ve got to collect that data and we’ve got to share those data.
Strategies for developing treatments against some kinds of cancers — the President is very committed to his proposal of an ARPA-H agency at the NIH to take on bold, transformative projects for hard problems like this.
I mentioned patients and their families having to navigate cancer on their own. We need to consider navigation services — equitable navigation services, navigation services that meet the needs of patients — as really part of cancer care. They’re very important.
And then last of all, failing to learn from most patients’ experiences. I got to say — and I know this personally and the President knows it even better: Most patients want their experiences to be of value to future patients. Most — not every one of them — but most of them want to share that information, and we got to make sure patients have the right and the ability to contribute their information and data to help others if they choose to do that.
I could go into details on that, and we will in the coming weeks, and we’re going to gather the community together to flesh this out far better than the ideas we’ve already put down. But we are convinced that under each of these seven headings, there is a lot that can be done. And by reigniting the Moonshot, it’s going to bring people together — patients, advocates, researchers, physicians, companies, and many, many others — to really make sure that we make each of these things no longer the barriers that they are today.
So, [senior administration official], let’s talk about some of the actions that will take place.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks, [senior administration official]. So, [senior administration official] just laid out some of the promise and opportunity in these areas that we’re defining under ending cancer as we know it. And what we’re really talking about, from the administration side, is mobilizing the entire government behind this effort as a presidential priority.
Under the Biden-Harris administration, the Cancer Moonshot specifically will reestablish White House leadership with a focused White House Cancer Moonshot Coordinator in the Office of the President. This will demonstrate the President and First Lady’s personal commitment to making progress and to really leverage this whole-of-government approach and national response that the challenge of cancer demands.
We will form a Cancer Cabinet, which will be convened by the White House, bringing together departments and agencies across government to deliver — to address cancer on multiple fronts. This includes, for example, the Departments of Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs, Defense, Energy, the Department of Agriculture, EPA, and many others, including the Office of the Vice President, Office of the First Lady, and Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Domestic Policy Council here at the White House.
The President and First Lady will issue a call to action on cancer screening and early detection. As [senior administration official] touched on, we need to get back on track after more than nine and a half million missed cancer screenings in the United States as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With regular recommended screenings, we can often catch cancer when there may be even more effective treatment options or prevent it from developing by removing precancerous tissue.
To help ensure equitable access to screening and prevention, we will promote at-home screening where it’s possible, especially with tools for colon cancer and HPV, with mobile screening and communities without easy access to a clinic, through the community health networks that have been so important and have built and strengthened during the COVID-19 pandemic, and other ways to really bring screening and early detection to people where they are.
Also as a part of this screening call to action, NCI will organize — the National Cancer Institute, NCI — will organize the collective efforts of their cancer centers and other networks, such as their Community Oncology Research Network, to offer new access points to compensate for these millions of delayed cancer screening and with a focus on reaching the individuals most at risk.
Federal agencies will develop a focused program — as [senior administration official] said, the promise in studying multi-cancer detection tests, and really understanding the promise for patients and in extending life there. We’ll develop a focused program to expeditiously study and evaluate multi-cancer detection tests, like we’ve done for COVID-19 diagnostics.
The Department of Health and Human Services will accelerate efforts to nearly eliminate cervical cancer through cervical cancer screening and HPV vaccinations — again, with a particular focus on reaching those communities outside of the reach currently and most at risk.
And the President’s Cancer Panel, tomorrow, will release a report entitled “Closing Gaps in Cancer Screening,” laying out recommendations focused on connecting people, community, and systems to increase equity and access.
So, that’s on the call to action on cancer screening and early detection.
Additionally, among the specific commitments from this administration on the Cancer Moonshot, we will host a White House Cancer Moonshot Summit, bringing together agency leadership; patient organizations; biopharmaceutical companies; the research, public health, and healthcare communities; and others to highlight innovation and progress and new commitments towards ending cancer as we know it.
We will build on an already existing White House Coun- — White House Cancer Roundtable Series that we’ve hosted over the last six months. And we’ll expand the topics to the seven pillars that [senior administration official] outlined for us, and include additional communities and perspectives to make sure that this mission and this agenda is being built by those most impacted by this disease and with the most experience and knowledge to help us identify priorities.
And finally, the President will call for an all-hands-on-deck approach, calling on the private sector, foundations, academic institutions, healthcare providers, and all Americans to take on the mission of reducing the deadly impact of cancer and improving patient experiences in the diagnosis, treatment, and survival of cancer.
As I said, progress will be informed by people directly experiencing this disease — cancer patients, caregivers, and families — and contributed by all parts of the oncology community and beyond.
Tomorrow, we’ll be launching a website where people can engage and interact with the Cancer Moonshot.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great. So, I will wrap up so we can take questions. But let me just say: You’ve heard what the President is going to lay out tomorrow. You know that for the President and the First Lady, it’s very personal. Both will speak tomorrow.
It’s also personal for the Vice President. The Vice President’s mother, as I’m sure many of you know, was a breast cancer researcher. She taught at public universities, worked at a national laboratory, published research papers, and collaborated with NIH and scientists around the world. And in 2008, after a lifetime of researching cancer, she was diagnosed with colon cancer and died of the disease the following year.
And I could say it’s personal for me and it’s personal for [senior administration official] and, I don’t know, even on a call with 65 journalists, I’m going to say I bet it’s personal for the majority of you too — that all of us come to this less in our official jobs than as people whose lives have been touched by cancer. So, that’s why the administration is lifting up cancer with such a bold goal.
And we’re happy to take your questions now. And then I know we’re only to be able to take a handful of questions, but if you have specific questions after the President’s remarks tomorrow or want to request an interview, we’re happy to do that. But the way to do it would be to email us at [email protected]. And we’ll be glad to talk more about it.
So, with that, let’s turn back to the White House Communications staff to figure out how we’re going to take questions.
Q Hi, thank you for doing this call. I have a couple of questions. First, when President Obama announced the Cancer Moonshot in 2016, his goal was to make a decade’s worth of advancements in five years. And I’m wondering: Has that goal been achieved, and do you think the new goal is more ambitious?
And then secondly, on money, Congress authorized $1.8 billion over seven years in 2016 and about $400 million is left. So, is there any new money over and above that behind this Cancer Moonshot?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you so much for those questions.
So, look, I think the Cancer Moonshot that was launched in 2016 was tremendously successful. We’ve seen all sorts of new possibilities be created — those kinds of research advances. I would say it’s fair to say that we saw a decade’s worth of research advances occur in those past five years.
And it’s precisely because of that that I think we can talk about setting goals like actually decreasing death rates from cancer over the next 25 years.
It’s clear now that all sorts of possibilities, like I was talking about — vaccines — prophylactic preventative vaccines against cancer — not something we could have thought of five years ago. And now, you can sit down and write out a plan for how you’d do it and how you might do a clinical trial to observe that you are really preventing. It’s not easy, but you can do that today.
You can — five years ago, it was not plausible to think about doing these annual blood tests that might screen for cancer. There’s a lot of work that’s become possible; now we actually have to do it. We got to reduce this to practice and get it out there.
I think the same is true for many of these other areas where we’ve gotten a really clear understanding of the need to share data and ways to do it that are effective. I think the issues around equity are really clear and urgent right now.
So, I think that did its work. And it would not have been possible, not have been plausible to have set out these kinds of goals of decreasing the death rate by 50 percent and taking on these specific categories before, and it is possible now.
So, yeah. And I am very confident that there will be robust funding going forward because, I got to say, in these times of disagreements, there’s certainly one thing on which we all agree on across party, across everything, which is the effect of cancer on their lives. I know of nothing that unites us more and that is more bipartisan.
So, Sheryl, thank you so much for that really great question.
MR. MUNOZ: Thanks. Next, let’s try Josh one more time.
All right. [Senior administration official], the questions that Josh had are if there are any new funding commitments to be announced, and what the start date for the 50 percent reduction over 25 years is.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we’re not going to have a funding commitment tomorrow. I think we’re going to announce what the plan is, because it’s pretty important to bring together the Cancer Cabinet, bring together the community.
We’ve laid out a set of ideas. I want to make sure that we have got everybody at the table contributing those ideas and a plan.
But so, that’s the answer there. But again, I am very confident there’s robust support for it. But I’m also very certain that we want to start this by listening and expanding the circle for ideas on these important seven pillars and more.
And when does that start? It starts about now. I don’t know — you know, I guess this year, let’s say, for the 25; we’ll start with 2022 and measure 25 years from now. I think that’s probably precise enough. We don’t — it won’t get down to the day, but they measure this in years. Let’s see where we are at the end of this year, and that’s a target for us to really decrease from.
And I believe that’s possible. We cut it by 25 percent — research and patient-driven solutions and medicine cut it by 25 percent. I think this will make a huge difference if we can achieve this. And it is going to be a shared bipartisan effort over time.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And one thing to add, [senior administration official]: Setting the goal 25 years out doesn’t mean that we can’t start measuring our progress soon. So, taking the death rate by cancer down 50 percent in 25 years is going to take work now, and we’re going to start to see the results in that year-over-year decrease that we have to keep at the level it is now and even accelerate it. So, it’s not pushing the measurement out; it’s just setting a really ambitious goal in the future that we can work really hard now towards making progress on.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That’s a really — it’s a really great point. The curve is not going to be a cliff in the 24th year. Let’s be really clear: It’s going to be steady decline over this period — targeting that.
So, you know, we’re all going to be looking at that accountably and saying, “Are we making the quantitative progress to land there?” So, even though Josh has had trouble connecting, you know, verbally, I appreciate the question being delivered in absentia. So, thank you, Josh, for the great question.
Q Hey, thanks, Kevin. And thank you, [senior administration officials], for doing the call. So, President Obama and Vice President Biden — in 2015, they both used the word “cure” and the phrase “cure cancer” when they rolled out the original Cancer Moonshot. And then-candidate Biden, I think, was criticized for doing the same in 2019 and 2020.
I don’t think I’ve heard either of you use that word or that phrase in this call. And I’m wondering whether it’s fair to read into that as kind of a — you know, taking a more measured approach using existing interventions and technologies as opposed to making pledges, promises about really remarkable scientific progress that we all hope for but is hard to guarantee.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, no, I wouldn’t read that into it, because I think the words “cure cancer” needs to be understood in the following way: When they talked then about curing cancer, they recognized that the way we decreased the death rate in cancer is we have to start curing cancers for some patients. We have immunotherapies right now that it’s fair to say are cures; we do not have a recurrence in 5 years, in 10 years. You know, you never want to use the word “cure,” but those are cures.
We are going to bite off piece by piece — I don’t think they said, “We’re going to cure all cancer all at once.” But you cure cancer by curing them one at a time, a patient at the time, a hundred patients at a time.
So, I think the idea of — and we’re not using the words “cure cancer” because it could be misunderstood by some people as just “get a cure for cancer.” But, Lev, as you know, there’s 200 types of cancer we need to get therapies for and therapies that extend life long enough to turn into cures for. But we’ve focused on this very measurable thing of decreasing that death rate 50 percent.
But, no, I would not think that he’s walking back the words; I think we’re speaking with a precision. But along that way, the 50 percent is going to be a lot of cures along the way.
And so, anyway, that’s — that’s it. No walking back, but using words carefully and precisely so that we can hold ourselves accountable.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And I think, as you heard [senior administration official] detail how we got to where we are, some of the big things — some of the big advancements that delivered a change in the death rate by cancer weren’t on the treatment side; they were on the prevention side, on the early detection side. So, by opening up the frame and talking about “ending cancer as we know it,” it gives us the leverage and the place to really make progress in those areas.
Because I know having a treatment for cancer — I was dia- — if I was diagnosed with cancer, I’d want to know there was a treatment. But even better is not ending up being diagnosed with that cancer in the first place.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right. If we end up with vaccines that can help prevent cancers from ever occurring in the first place — I guess [senior administration official] is right, that’s not curing anything, but, boy, it would have a huge impact. So, I think we’re just trying to use words carefully because we want to be open to the whole portfolio of approaches.
It’s a great question, Lev. I appreciate your clarifying that.
Q Hi, thanks for taking my question. You had mentioned ARPA-H and I think had said “in NIH.” Is that decided that that’s where that agency would be — inside the NIH instead of its own independent agency?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, when the President first described ARPA-H in the spring as part of — well, I mean, he’s described it in speeches. But in the speeches and in the budget, he has requested that and proposed that to be a new kind of division within the NIH — something independent and autonomous, something that has different authorities and different cultures and things like that, but connected to and part of the broader NIH community there.
So, yes, that’s how the President has proposed it for sure.
Thanks. Thank you, Rachel, for the question.
Q Hi, thanks for taking my question. [Senior administration official], for the new goals you just announced, do you expect the Cancer Cabinet — to charge it with the agenda? Or will NCI continue to provide central leadership for these efforts — for the Moonshot — as the institute has been since 2016? And if so, are there efforts in the works to request funds to support these goals?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, the answer is both. Some of these things, squarely are in the remit of the NCI, but there’ll be other things. Some of the things that need to be done, other agencies have a critical role in. If we’re going to be deploying — oh, let’s say, vaccines that can prevent cervical cancer, and head and neck cancer, these HPV vaccines, that’s going to be other agencies that will be playing that — the CDC, for example.
Some of these questions about, “How do we make sure everybody has access to clinical trials and they can be reimbursed for their out-of-pocket costs and other things?” That might involve CMS.
So, I think NCI could not be more central. But the idea that this is just limited to cancer research, rather than all of the agencies — and not just the agencies in HHS. I think VA, DOD, DOE all have contributions to make.
So, there will obviously be huge work at NCI, but we’re pulling together a Cancer Cabinet to make sure that we get the benefit of all the levers that might be pulled.
[Senior administration official], do you want to?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. I think it’s important to emphasize that [senior administration official] had just added VA and DOD. And not only do they have important research programs and research goals, but they also run health systems. And so, they’re very much a part of the work here, as they were in 2016.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. I mean, the VA has health information systems that we’ve learned tremendous amounts from. There are medical records from which you can learn a tremendous amount. I’ll just note, I saw a study on multiple sclerosis. It just underscores that we can learn a lot in a lot of places, and we want no stone unturned in this effort.
Thank you, Matt, for the question. Really good question.
Q Hey, guys, thanks for doing this call. Can you guys go into a little more detail about how you see the First Lady’s role? Obviously, for the vaccine efforts, she’s traveled around the country. Do you see her doing that, sort of, same kind of work? And will she be, sort of, the face of a piece of this initiative? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, the First Lady has — is very much a part of this. She’s a part of the event tomorrow. And as you mentioned, she has been out there with public health messages since the start of the administration. She has spent some time in the last year doing work specifically on cancer, especially around cancer screening and early detection. And we expect — not only in that area, but we expect her to have some leadership role there with more to come.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, I think she is excited and committed to this, and brings a tremendous amount to it.
So, Nikki, thank you for that question.
And I know we’ve run out of time for questions, but I’m really grateful for everybody who’s here tonight. I’m excited about it. And we will be able to follow up with you at [email protected] after the President’s speech, because, you know, this embargo lifts at 5:00; the President will speak tomorrow. And afterwards, I’m sure there’ll be lots of great opportunities for follow up.
Thank you for coming. Thank you for caring about this.
7:12 P.M. EST