President Biden Acknowledges 50th Anniversary of National Cancer Act, Proposes Launching New Agency to Expedite Cancer Breakthroughs

Upon recognizing the 50th anniversary of the National Cancer Act of 1971, President Joe Biden set forth his proposal for the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the National Cancer Act of 1971, a bipartisan law that launched programs such as the National Cancer Institute (NCI), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and NCI-designated cancer centers. Now, President Joseph Biden is proposing another component of the NIH, with hopes of continuing to move the field forward.

“For my family, and for most families, the fight against cancer is personal,” said Biden in a statement. Biden’s son, Beau, died of glioblastoma in May 2015 – something the president recently said may be attributed to toxic burn pits that Beau encountered during his military service.

Biden’s foray into the cancer world did not end there. In 2016, he and his wife, Jill, lead the Cancer Moonshot Initiative, which was aimed at accelerating programs in prevention, detection, diagnosis research and cancer care. While the Cancer Moonshot suspended operations indefinitely during Biden’s 2020 presidential candidacy, the Bidens say that they remain faithful to the cause.

Biden Proposes ARPA-H

“To help us get there, I have asked the Congress to launch the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health — or ARPA-H — which will invest billions of dollars to speed breakthroughs in preventing, detecting, and treating cancer and other deadly diseases,” Biden said in the statement, noting that he also hopes to expand access to affordable health insurance and build on the Affordable Care Act.

The ARPA-H was included in Biden’s fiscal year 2022 budget as a part of the NIH. The president is requesting $6.5 billion be made available for three years so that the ARPA-H can “be tasked with building high-risk, high-reward capabilities (or platforms) to drive biomedical breakthroughs – ranging from molecular to societal – that would provide transformative solutions for all patients,” the NIH wrote on its website. The program is proposed to not only target cancer, but other conditions like Alzheimer’s and infectious diseases.

Individuals in the cancer world are supporting the ARPA-H, including Dr. Laurie Glimcher, president and CEO of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, who tweeted, “Cancer touches everyone. We strongly support the Biden Administration’s call to create a new biomedical research agency called ARPA-H that would lead to major new investments to accelerate the pace of cancer discovery and cures. This is a mission we share at (Dana-Farber).”

However, others are skeptical. The American Society for Cell Biology wrote a letter to the White House citing that while federally funded research through the NIH has led to much landmark and lifechanging research, altering the structure of the NIH could put future advancements at risk.

“The new ARPA-H will have decisions set by program officers who will be doing a top-down direction rather than a direction set by scientists who are active in their fields. A top-down approach jeopardizes the success of American science and its position as the world leader in biomedical research,” the letter stated.

Biden Reflects on Prior Success of the National Cancer Act

Biden continued that thanks in part to the National Cancer Act, as well as the “limitless ingenuity of the world’s finest nurses, physicians and researchers,” cancer death rates in the United States have seen a steady decline since the early 1990s.

According to the American Cancer Society’s “Cancer Facts and Figures 2021,” the five-year survival rate for all types of cancers was about 49% between 1975 and 1977. Between 1987 and 1989 it increased to 55%, and then improved again to 67% between 2010 and 2016. Survival rates continue to go up in most disease types.

“As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the National Cancer Act, I call upon all Americans to reaffirm our national commitment to accelerate cancer research and deliver hope to more families facing a cancer diagnosis. Working together, building on the decades of progress we have made, we can and will end cancer as we know it,” Biden’s statement said.

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