‘Let’s end cancer’: Biden urges Congress to back research in State of the Union

The president asked lawmakers to support the creation of a new agency to go after breakthrough discoveries.

In his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden said he wants to make cancer a treatable disease, and he made a pitch for a new federal agency to fund breakthrough research.

Biden called on Congress to support his proposal to create the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, or ARPA-H. He included the agency and the focus on cancer as part of his “unity agenda” to appeal to Republicans and Democrats. Biden also called for an increased focus on mental health in that unity agenda.

The president announced his plans for the new health research agency last year, and asked Congress to support it in his State of the Union Tuesday night. He said the agency could play a pivotal rule in supporting cancer research.

“Let’s end cancer as we know it,” Biden said. “This is personal.”

Biden’s son, Beau, died of cancer at the age of 46, and the president has been an ardent supporter of cancer research. When he was vice president, President Barack Obama tapped him to lead the “cancer moonshot.”

Earlier this month, Biden said he was reigniting that effort and the administration announced a goal of reducing cancer deaths by 50% over the next 25 years. In the State of the Union, Biden said he thought that goal could be surpassed.

ARPA-H is modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which helped lead the development of the Internet and stealth technology.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers have expressed support for the new agency. In November, U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., and Fred Upton, R-Mich., introduced the “Cures 2.0” bill, which would authorize the creation of the agency. The bill would offer $6.5 billion to finance the agency for three years, the amount the White House has requested.

The federal government spends billions each year on medical research, chiefly through the National Institutes of Health. But the Biden administration has said ARPA-H would take a different approach.

The White House has said the new agency would finance “high risk, high reward” projects aimed at biomedical breakthroughs. ARPA-H would focus on cancer, along with Alzheimer’s disease and other illnesses.

Health advocates and analysts have said medical research has generally proven to be popular with Democratic and Republican lawmakers, and ARPA-H has received support as well.

Biden has also proposed spending increases for the NIH, the largest source of federal funds for biomedical research, and the National Cancer Institute.

In the State of the Union, Biden also announced measures to give veterans more access to care, including coverage for veterans who are suffering from toxic exposures.

On Tuesday, the Department of Veterans Affairs said it was proposing to add several rare cancers to the list of disabilities connected to military service and eligible for treatment.

In the State of the Union, Biden speculated it’s possible the exposure to burn pits played a role in the death of his son, Beau, who served in Iraq.