HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Biden Cancer Plan Called Bold, Achievable

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President Joe Biden‘s goal of cutting the cancer death rate in half will require strides in population-level research and weeding out disparities in care, the head of the National Cancer Institute said.

“That’s a bold, but achievable goal,” NCI Director Ned Sharpless told Bloomberg Law’s Jeannie Baumann. “But if we’re going to reduce mortality by 50% in 25 years, we’re going to have to invest in the science and technologies that will do that.”

The White House is set to launch a second iteration of the Cancer Moonshot, one of Biden’s signature efforts during the Obama administration to double the rate of progress in cancer prevention, treatments, and detection. The institute headed by Sharpless will play a critical role in shepherding the scientific advances that make Biden’s goal possible. “NCI could not be more central,” a senior administration official said, adding that the White House is pulling together a Cancer Cabinet as the work extends beyond biomedical research.

The next phase of the moonshot—Sharpless prefers “supercharged” over a “reignited” effort since the 2016 initiative continues to run a robust program—needs to shift toward population-level efforts to develop better ways to prevent and screen for cancer, he said. It could support research, for example, to develop a test that could offer early detection of different cancers at once.

Research efforts targeted at specific communities would also help lower inequities in cancer care, Sharpless said. “We play a big role in understanding how cancer care is delivered in the real world and how access to care shapes outcomes, and how barriers to care in some cases, worsen outcomes,” he said.

The death rate of cancer has declined in the U.S. overall, but certain populations continue to get hit harder due to factors such as systemic racism in medicine, poverty, and lack of access to care. Black Americans have higher death rates for many cancer types, and Americans in rural Appalachia have higher incidence rates of colorectal, lung and cervical cancers, the NCI has found. “If we can take populations that have poor outcomes in cancer and work against those disparities,” Sharpless said, it “would be a huge effect on cancer mortality at a population level.” Read more from Jeannie Baumann.

The Coronavirus Pandemic

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What Else to Know Today

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