UCSF scientist says Biden's cancer moonshot achievable

President Biden revived his call for a nationwide cancer moonshot effort on Monday, as he marked the 60th anniversary of President Kennedy's famous pledge to get a man on the moon.

"The goal is to cut cancer death rates by at least 50%, at least 50% in the next 25 years," said President Biden, "To turn more cancers from death sentences into chronic diseases people can live with."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says cancer is the nation's second-highest killer, with only heart disease claiming more lives in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates 1.9 million new cases will be diagnosed and about 609,360 people will die from cancer in 2022. 

As part of the call for a moonshot effort, President Biden announced a new National Cancer Institute Scholars Program to fund more cancer research.

He also signed an executive order on biotechnology to make the U.S. less dependent on foreign countries for medical tools and materials. 

Biden pointed to a new federal study of diagnostic blood tests for earlier detection of cancer, as an example of scientific research that could make a difference. 

He also called on the private sector to make drugs more affordable and said better screening and health equity can help cut cancer deaths.

Nancy Senor, who lives in Clayton, says it was devastating when her grown daughter, also a mom, was battling cancer.

"The doctor did tell us when we went, the oncologist said if you had been here ten years ago, she'd be dead. So that was a shock," said Senor, "She was bald, laying in her bed...I handed her her water and ran out and started crying."

So Monday, when Senor heard President Biden, a father who lost his 46-year-old son Beau, to brain cancer seven years ago, his words were like medicine.

"It's hopeful, and we need hope," said Senor.

For Senor's daughter and many people touched by cancer, a nationwide cancer moonshot effort is a morale booster in the desperate search for answers, when time is precious and life turns into a race against cancer's clock.

"She's afraid she's going to miss out. She's afraid that she'll miss out on her kids' sports. She's afraid she's not going to make a vacation with her kids. She's afraid, she's very fearful of her cancer coming back, that she won't see her kids grow up," said Senor.

"Every hour of every day, 200 people in the United States are diagnosed with cancer. That's an incredible number," said Rob Tufel, CEO of the Cancer Support Community in Walnut Creek, and a cancer survivor himself. He says the nation also must recognize the need for wrap around support for diverse communities.

"If you are not providing practical emotional support for cancer patients and their families, you're not really providing complete cancer care. You can't just focus on the medical part," said Tufel.

"That's bold. I think it's completely achievable," said Keith Yamamoto, Vice Chancellor of UCSF Science policy and Strategy. He met with Biden on the first cancer moonshot initiative a decade ago.

Yamamoto pointed to genomic technology and other advances in targeting cancer cells as signs that research has opened new possibilities for tackling cancers. 

He says the President's recent actions to more efficiently link cutting edge federal research with private sector development and applications make the moonshot a real possibility.

"Our capacities for imaging and being able to look at cancer cells and see differences on them that identify them very clearly and allow them to be targeted," said Yamamoto, "Those tools have emerged that are now on the horizon that just weren't there before."

For President Biden, the cancer moonshot provides a "national purpose" of overcoming a disease despite political divisions.

"Cancer does not discriminate red and blue. It doesn't care if you're a Republican or a Democrat," said Biden.