Obama vows to cure cancer ‘once and for all’

President Obama pledged a “new national effort” to find a cure for cancer in his final State of the Union address on Tuesday.

“For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the family we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all,” Obama said in his address to a joint session of Congress, prompting roaring applause.

Obama said the efforts are inspired by, and will be led by, Vice President Biden, who launched a high-profile push to end cancer after his oldest son died from a brain tumor last year.

“Last year, Vice President Biden said that with a new moonshot, America can cure cancer,” Obama said Tuesday, referring to Biden's speech in the Rose Garden last October when he promised an all-out effort to end cancer. “Tonight, I’m announcing a new national effort to get it done.”

In his own remarks on Tuesday night, Biden said his priority will be increasing public and private dollars to fight cancer while also breaking down the many “silos” that prevent cancer-fighters from sharing their data and research.

“The federal government will do everything it possibly can  —  through funding, targeted incentives, and increased private-sector coordination  —  to support research and enable progress,” Biden wrote in a blog post published at the same time as the speech.

Biden said next month he will convene the “first of several” meetings with administration officials on his efforts. He will also continue high-level meetings with cancer researchers, advocates and leaders, with more than 200 of those meetings already under his belt.

He compared the commitment to fighting cancer to President Kennedy's promise to send Americans to the moon 55 years ago: "This is our moonshot."

The push follows an agreement by Republicans and Democrats in Congress to increase National Institutes of Health (NIH) spending for the first time in more than a decade.  

Biden’s efforts quickly drew praise from House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who has been essential in securing more medical research funding over the last year.   

“The talk of a ‘moon shot’ is the exact mindset we need,” Upton said in a statement.

He added that he spent time with the vice president before the speech and was encouraged by Biden’s support for the committee’s push to speed up the approval process for new drugs and therapies.

“He is committed to helping us get important, bipartisan reforms through the Senate and into law. We welcome every voice, including the president’s and vice president’s to the conversation, as we work to get 21st Century Cures across the finish line.”  

Some Republicans said they were disappointed that Obama didn’t mention the hard work by Republicans in Congress to secure that nearly 7 percent funding increase for the NIH this year.

“That was actually a Republican initiative he’s taking a little bit of credit for,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who oversees health department funding on the House Appropriations Committee, said after the speech Tuesday night.

“Frankly, we put a bigger offer in front of the Democrats. I thought that was a missed opportunity to give the other side a little credit,” Cole said.

Hours earlier on Tuesday, a group of biotech companies, drugmakers, doctors and researchers formally announced a coalition called the Cancer MoonShot 2020. Biden’s son-in-law, a medical doctor, kicked off the evening.

Several advocates had anticipated a direct mention of Biden’s efforts in Tuesday night’s speech.

This story was updated at 11:43 p.m.