Remarks by President Biden and Ambassador Kennedy on the Cancer Moonshot Initiative


John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
Boston, Massachusetts

September 12, 2022

AMBASSADOR KENNEDY: Good afternoon. On behalf of my family and the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, welcome to this historic day. On the 60th anniversary of President Kennedy’s Moonshot speech, we’re honored to welcome President Biden as he announces his own administration’s Cancer Moonshot for the 21st century. This is also a special day for me personally because it’s the day that my parents were married 69 years ago.

We’re so happy to have Mayor Wu, Mayor Landrieu, Senator Markey, Administrator Becerra, Governor Baker, Secretary Walsh, and so many members of the Massachusetts delegation with us. We’re grateful for your support of the library over many years. I know that many of you and the state and local officials here worked with closely with my Uncle Teddy, for the good of this Commonwealth, and that you all share my father’s love of politics.

I want to recognize members of the medical community who are here, physicians, researchers, cancer survivors, students, you all save lives and bring hope and healing to patients and families suffering from cancer. I want to thank Sheetal for the inspiration that you provide not just to those living with cancer, but all those who are working for a cleaner, healthier world. And I want to thank the members of my family who are here. My cousins, your families, all of you carry on your parents’ work. And all of you carry on our love of Joe Biden.

And I especially want to thank my husband, Ed, my daughter, Tatiana, and my son Jack for being here, especially Jack who welcomed us. He always shows up for this library and for me, no matter what, not just on the public days, but every day. I learned from Teddy that it’s more fun to do things with family. So I’m grateful to Jack for always making this work fun.

A few years ago, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the moon landing and the world was captivated by the memory of that event. But almost more remarkable was that such a historic national achievement was set in motion by a single speech. When President Kennedy gave his speech at Rice University, the United States had only four short manned space flights, the longest less than five hours. President Eisenhower and Cold War experts said we should concentrate on developing satellites and missiles to beat the Soviets instead of going to the moon. And there were other reasons not to do it. It was expensive, eventually costing 4% of GDP. And when a time when many said the money would be better spent on building infrastructure, fighting poverty, and addressing other social problems, not to mention the necessary materials had not yet been invented and scientists weren’t sure even that a moon landing on the surface of the Moon was possible.

But President Kennedy understood the power of the idea. And over time, along with his inaugural address’ call to service, the Moonshot speech has become perhaps his best known legacy. The vision, the purpose, the courage it embodied has inspired each generation to take on hard challenges, and provides a metaphor to guide us as we face adversity in our own lives. My father believed that the effort to land on the moon would bring out the best in America, that everyone would contribute, that it would require invention, creativity, teamwork, commitment, and faith, and that the world would be different because of it. He didn’t live to see it, but he set in motion and age of discovery and invention, of earth science and space exploration, that has made America the leader of the world.

As citizens, as colleagues, as friends, we can learn from his vision. It’s up to each of us to set an example to do hard things when we don’t think we can, to believe in others when they take risks, to support them when it’s tough. And never forget that together, we can achieve great things. No one embodies that spirit more than President Joe Biden. He’s lived President Kennedy’s call to service throughout his life and career. As President, he has restored the soul of America, advanced freedom and democracy around the world. For more than 50 years, President Biden has been fighting for working families, affordable health care, access to a quality education, and always, to honor our men and women in uniform.

But perhaps the most personal fight for him is the one against cancer. As Vice President he launched his own moonshot to end cancer as we know it, and with characteristic perseverance, he’s still committed to that cause. Like the Bidens, like all families, our family has lost people we love to this disease, including three who created and sustained this library: my Uncle Steve, my mother, and my Uncle Teddy, and I want to remember them today.

Having felt the grief that comes with such loss, I’ve often looked at President Biden’s life for inspiration. His courage and compassion, his endless empathy and abiding faith, and his confidence that we can overcome this challenge have lifted our hearts. His personal commitment and the national goal he sets today will save lives, change our country, and heal the world. I’m honored to serve in his administration and to introduce him now. Thank you.

PRESIDENT BIDEN: Thank you, Madam Ambassador. Thank you, thank you, thank you. (Applause.) Thank you. Madam Ambassador Caroline, thank you for that introduction and for your enduring friendship.

I was talking earlier about how your family, at a very difficult time in my life — when I first got to the Senate as a 29-year-old kid, before I was sworn in, I lost my wife and my daughter, and my two boys were so badly injured when struck by a tractor trailer. And your family was there for me. No, I really mean it. Your family was there for me. And you may remember some of it. And I’ll never forget it. They got me and my boys through an awful lot.

I’m truly honored to be with you all this — and your incredible family.

And, Jack, I believe your generation is the best-educated, most talented generation in our history. And that’s the reason I’m so optimistic about the future, and that’s not hyperbole. I mean it.

You know, Sheetal, thank you for sharing your powerful story.

And thank you, Mayor Wu, for the passport into this great city.

And thank you to Health and — (applause) — to Health and Human Service — Services Secretary Becerra and Boston’s own Marty Walsh. Marty. (Applause.)

And thank you to the members of the Massachusetts delegation from the House: Representatives Pressley, Lynch, Keating, and Jack — Jake, I should say, Auchincloss. And, Lori, thank you as well for being here. You have beautiful daughters. They’re great kids.

And I want to thank all of you — the cancer patients, survivors, caregivers.

(Addressing audience members on the balcony.) And don’t jump from up there, okay?

And all — for all the leaders of science and medicine for being here today.

This is a powerful place for reflection and remembrance.

On this day in 1962, America was facing an inflection point — one of those times that changes everything, from the day before to the day after. The shadow of world wars cast over a Cold War. The march on civil rights urgent yet uncertain.

And against all of that and more, America faced a choice: to move forward or to move backwards; to build the future or obsess about the past; to be a nation of unity and hope and optimism, or a nation of division, violence, and hatred.

At this inflection point, President Kennedy made a choice for the nation, thank God. On this day in 1962, at Rice University in Houston, he spoke about America’s possibilities.

I was asked by Xi Jinping — who I’ve met with more than any other world leader — in the Tibetan Plateau, and he turned to me and he said, “Can you define America for me?” And I said, “Yes.” And I was sincere. I said, “One word: possibilities.” In America, we believe anything is possible. (Applause.) And I mean it.

And in choosing to go to the Moon, President Kennedy said America was doing so, quote, “not because [it was] easy, but because [it was] hard, because [the] goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are” willing — not — “one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

“Unwilling to postpone.” President Kennedy. “Unwilling to postpone.” President Kennedy set a goal to win the Space Race against Russia and advance science and technology for all of humanity. And when he set that goal, he established a national purpose that could rally the American people in a common cause. And he succeeded.

Now, in our time, on the 60th anniversary of his clarion call, we face another inflection point. And together, we can choose to move forward with unity, hope, and optimism.

And I believe we can usher in the same unwillingness to postpone, the same national purpose that will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills to end cancer as we know it and even cure cancers once and for all. (Applause.)

I give you my word as a Biden: This Cancer Moonshot is one of the reasons why I ran for President. It’s part of my Unity Agenda that I laid out in my State of the Union Address to rally the American people to work together. Because we know this: 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. And that’s why I’m here today. (Applause.)

We’ve made enormous progress in the past 50 years since President Nixon signed the National Cancer Act to declare a war on cancer.

We learned cancer is not a single disease, but there are over 200 different types of cancers caused by different genetic mutations in our cells. We discovered new medicines, therapies, early detection and prevention measures to extend and to save lives.

In the first 25 years since the National Cancer Act, the death rate from cancer largely remained unchanged. Then things began to change.

With progress over the last 25 years, the death rate from cancer has fallen more than 25 percent. But despite the progress of life ex- — lives extended, lives saved, cancer is still the number two cause of death in America second only to heart disease.

For too many cancer patients and their families, instead of hope, there’s bewilderment; the feeling of being on your own; frustration that hospitals said [and] doctors can’t easily share your medical records with other hospitals and doctors to help find answers even when every minute counts; having to advocate for even the most basic care and attention for your loved ones; the flood of information is completely different — is a completely different language, with few people help and available to help you decipher it; having therapy that work — that could work within reach, but it’s too expensive or insurance won’t cover it.

And so when President Obama asked me to launch the Cancer Moonshot, our goal was to bring an added urgency — a new urgency to the fight and, in my view, not unlike President Kennedy did.

We harnessed federal resources to change the culture, increase cooperation, and break down the silos that exist. That included everything from making published results of federally funded cancer research more available to any patient, to any doctor, for free instead of the firewall that had been set up.

That included the recognition that for many cancer patients it’s hard to even know if there’s a clinical trial that can help them, let alone how to enroll in one. So we launched Trials.Cancer.gov so everyone can find a clinical trial near them or across the country and the world, and they can gain access to these trials.

I’ve traveled the country, brought together leaders in healthcare, technology, education, business, philanthropy. I visited many of the major cancer research centers in the world. And nowhere — no matter where I was or what the topic at hand, world leaders wanted to talk to me about our Cancer Moonshot. That’s not hyperbole, that’s a fact.

For example, Pope Francis convened a major international conference on cell therapies at the Vatican, and he invited me to speak about our mission. And one of the final pieces of legislation President Obama signed into law was the bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act.

It streamlined the Food and Drug Administration — the FDA — by creating an Oncology Center of Excellence so new cancer treatments can be evaluated faster. It provided seven years of new funding, including research on cancer therapies and the disparities, trial networks to discover new drugs, and new efforts on childhood cancer.

As President of the United States Senate, I presided over the overwhelming bipartisan vote and watched my friend Mitch McConnell name the cancer provisions in that bill after my son Beau, who had lost his life to that disease just months earlier.

And when we left office, Jill and I knew we had to keep it going through, keep it up — so we initiated the Biden Cancer Initiative.

We focused on turning the moonshot into a movement — not just a shot, a movement — to create a cancer research and care system that most people think we already have but they don’t realize until they find they have cancer that we don’t, but one that we deserve.

And everywhere we’d go, people would share their stories, literally, in grocery stores, airports, rope lines. While we heard stories of loss and despair, the stories began to change to a feeling of real hope, not because of me or Jill, but because of all of you and so many of you at home: doctors, researchers, advocates, caregivers, patients, survivors.

And that’s when I was elected President and I determined to supercharge the Cancer Moonshot as a central effort in the Biden-Harris administration.

In February, I laid out our plan that is bold, ambitious, and, I might add, completely doable.

The goal is to cut cancer death rates by at least 50 percent — at least 50 percent — in the next 25 years; to turn more cancers from death sentences into chronic diseases people can live with; to create a more supportive experience for our patients and families; and to update — to update our fight against the cancer.

It’s a disease we often diagnose too late and have too few ways to prevent it in the first place; where there are stark inequities based on race, disability, ZIP Code, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other factors. We know too little about why treatments work for some patients but the same patient — a different patient with the same disease it doesn’t work for.

We still lack strategies for developing treatments for some cancers, like childhood cancers.

We don’t do enough to help patients and families navigate the cancer care system.

We don’t learn enough from their experience as patients.

We don’t share enough data and knowledge to bring the urgency we need to finding new answers.

But for each — for each of the ways we know cancer today, we know we can change the trajectory.

For example, to prevent cancers, scientists are exploring whether mRNA vaccine technology that brought us safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines could be used to stop cancer cells when they first arise.

To target the right treatments, we’re learning more about how to use genetics, immune response, and other factors to tell which combinations of treatments are likely to work best for each individual.

To address the inequities, we can ensure prevention, detection, treatment; reach patients in urban, rural, and suburban, and Tribal communities so they have equal access to cancer diagnostics, therapeutics, and clinical trials.

As part of the supercharged Moonshot, I’ll use my authorities as President to increase funding to break logjam — break logjams and to speed breakthroughs.

I’ve also formed a new Cancer Cabinet that is driving a whole-of-government effort to unleash every possible asset within our power — from NASA, that knows more about radiation than any doctor does; to the Defense Department, that has the ability to calculate; and to the Energy Department — do a million billion calculations per second.

Health and Human Services Secretary Becerra plays a key role in the Cancer Cabinet, as does Marty Walsh, a childhood cancer survivor who is committed to helping Americans get time off for cancer screenings or care for a loved one.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is changing the path of the — for the Cancer Moonshot for 2022 and beyond.

And today, I’m setting a long-term goal for the Cancer Moonshot to rally America and ingenuity that we can engage, like we did to reach the Moon, that actually cures cancers, not all cancer — cancers — cures for cancers, once and for all.

And a critical way to do that is that going through what I call ARPA-H, Advanced Research Project Agencies for Health. It’s based on DARPA, the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, that has helped lead to breakthroughs in technologies to protect our national security, like the Internet, GPS, and so much more.

ARPA-H 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.

I called for ARPA-H in my campaign. And after being elected President, notwithstanding the fact that Democrats and Republicans allegedly don’t talk to one another, Republicans, independents, and Democrats in Congress came together and invested $1 billion initially to launch ARPA-H.

Imagine the possibilities: vaccines that could prevent cancer, like the race for HPV.

Imagine molecular ZIP Codes that could deliver drugs and gene therapy precisely to the right tissues.

Imagine a simple blood test during an annual physical that could detect cancer early, where the chance of a cure are best.

Imagine getting a simple shot instead of a grueling chemo or getting a pill from a local pharmacy instead of invasive treatments and long hospital stays.

Imagine treatments beyond cancer. Bold approaches to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity, something Vice President Harris is laser — laser-focused on.

And imagine artificial retinas that could help blind people see.

These are just a few of the ideas to illustrate the amazing potential of ARPA-H.

When President Kennedy called for a moonshot, we didn’t have all the tools and experience needed. With our Cancer Moonshot, today we do.

And I’m pleased to announce my selection as the inaugural director of ARPA-H, Dr. Renee Wegryzn, who is here today. Doctor, where are you? Stand up. (Applause.) The leading biomedical scientist, a decade of experience leading multiple biotech projects at DARPA. And, by the way, it’s about how to use all the assets we have — all of them. An entrepreneur in synthetic biology. She’s — you’re going to bring the legendary DARPA attitude and culture and boldness and risk-taking to ARPA-H to fill a critical need. Discoveries that save lives, change lives, and often start — they often start in the lab bench.

But then those basic research breakthroughs need to be tested, scaled, and brought to the clinic. This may require unusual partnerships that may require support to get over many obstacles that exist. That’s what ARPA-H is designed — what it’s designed to do, so the advances can reach all Americans sooner.

I predict ARPA-H will emerge as a new and exciting member of America’s biomedical ecosystem. But it’s not enough to invent technologies that save lives. We need to manufacture advanced biotechnologies here in the United States.

That’s why today I signed an executive order that directs the federal government to ensure biotechnologies invented in the United States of America are made in the United States of America — (applause) — whether they are for cancer treatments or anything else, like next-generation fuels and materials.

Today’s action is going to ensure that America leads the world in biotechnology and biomanufacturing, creating jobs, reducing prices, strengthening supply chains so we don’t have to rely on anywhere else in the world. Here in America it’ll be made. And here’s — there’s more that we’re doing.

The Inflation Reduction Act that I signed into law puts a $2,000 cap on the total prescription drug cost for any senior on Medicare, including cancer medicine. And for so many people, one of the first things they think about when they get a diagnosis: “How am I going to pay for the treatment? Do we need to sell the house? Do we need to skip payments on the car? Can we afford to send the kids to college?”

The Inflation Reduction Act is a godsend. It’s going to save people on one prostate cancer drug about $6,000 a year. Thousands of women are taking breast cancer treatments that will see about a $7,000-a-year savings.

But that’s not all. When I led the Cancer Moonshot as Vice President, one of the biggest issues I talked about was how federally funded cancer researchers were not sharing their results with their peers or the public because they wanted to have the answer. You all know it.

As I mentioned earlier, we made federally funded cancer research more available to any patient, to any doctor anywhere for free.

And today, as President, we’re making sure that transparency applies to all federally funded science beyond just cancer.

And this summer, I announced a new head of the National Cancer Institute, Boston’s own — Boston’s own Monica Bertaglia [sic] — Bertagnolli, excuse me. Monica, you can call me “Bidden.” (Laughter.) And she’s here today. Where are you, Monica? Stand up. Thank you. (Applause.)

The National Cancer Institute is launching a major national trial for those new tests I mentioned that could detect one or more cancers merely by taking blood samples. You know, if that’s the case, these blood tests could lead to less invasive cancer detection tools that will save lives.

We’re also launching the first-ever Cancer Moonshot Scholar program to support a new generation of scientists from every background, from every part of the country, to launch their cutting-edge research and careers.

But we need everyone to get in the game. That’s why I’m also calling on the science and medical communities to bring the boldest thinking to this fight. I’m calling on the private sector to develop and test new treatments, make drugs more affordable, share more data and knowledge that can inform the public and benefit every company’s research.

And I’m respectfully calling on people living with cancer, and caregivers and families, to keep sharing their experience and pushing for progress. Go to WhiteHouse.gov/CancerMoonshot. Share your ideas. So many of you already made a difference.

Last month, I signed the so-called PACT Act into law, one of the most significant laws helping veterans and their families impacted by toxic exposure like burn pits that lead to cancer.
It was veterans and their families, advocates and allies who helped me get this bill to my desk. They never gave up. They never stopped. They slept on the Capitol steps. It matters. It’s personal to all of us.

So let me close with this:

Caroline, I couldn’t be here and not talk about your uncle, Teddy. He was one of my dearest friends. One of the things that brings us close as families is the dreaded cancer that he and my Beau fought to the end and died months apart.

After Beau passed, Vicki wrote me a letter about how after Ted lost his older brother Joe, his father wrote to a friend who just lost his son. Caroline, your grandfather wrote, and I quote:
“When one of your loved one[s] goes out” — “goes out of your life, you think of what he might have done with a few more years, and you wonder” — “you wonder what you’re going to do with the rest of yours.

Then one day, because there is a world to be lived in, you find you are part of it trying to accomplish something — something he did not have time enough to do.
And perhaps that is the reason for it all. I hope so.”

End of quote.

For so many of us, that’s what we’re trying to do —

live a life worthy of the loved ones we’ve lost and the loved ones we can save, with their hope and absolute courage, and with an unwillingness to postpone and with a singular purpose for ourselves as a — and as a nation.

President Kennedy said on this day 60 years ago, “We set sail on this new sea because there is new, [life-saving] knowledge to be gained” that must be used for “progress of all people.” End of quote.

In our time today, that’s our charge to keep, in my view. I know we can do this together because I know this: There is nothing — nothing — nothing beyond our capacabili- — our capacity if we work together as the United States of America.

God bless you all. And may God protect our troops. Thank you for listening. (Applause.)

###