In his last State of the Union address, President Barack Obama said he is putting Vice President Joe Biden in charge of an effort to find more cancer treatments in what has been called a “moonshot” approach.
“Let's make America the country that cures cancer once and for all,” Obama said.
Health policy took a backseat to other topics at Tuesday night's speech, but Obama took time to speak about Biden's earlier pledge to work for a cancer cure and also called for the strengthening of Medicare and precision medicine. Biden's oldest son, Beau, died from brain cancer last year.
Obama cited a $2 billion funding increase for the National Institutes of Health as part of a spending bill passed last month. It's the largest raise the agency has seen in 12 years.
Obama also said the country is “on track to end” HIV/AIDS and could do the same with malaria.
In an early part of the speech calling for Congress to work on bipartisan efforts that could be passed this year, Obama mentioned legislation to fight prescription drug and heroin abuse.
He also touted the successes of the Affordable Care Act, which he said was about “filling the gaps in employer-based care.” The law has slowed healthcare inflation and helped create jobs, he said. The former claim has been refuted by some experts.
Obama also acknowledged, however, that politicians “won't agree on healthcare any time soon.”
In the Republican response, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley countered that the ACA is “disastrous” and has made health insurance and doctors less available.
Still, the next year could see some strides in some of Obama's parting wishes.
The NIH could get a further boost from a bill that the Senate's Health Committee has vowed will be a priority this year. The 21st Century Cures Act would increase funding to the NIH and the U.S Food and Drug Administration in an effort to better equip the agencies to speed up the approval process for new medical devices and drugs.
The bipartisan bill sailed through the House last summer, but the committee hasn't presented a bill to the full senate, partly because the bill doesn't yet have a pay-for.
U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), who sponsored 21st Century Cures quickly released a statement after the address, saying that he'd met with Biden, who Upton says expressed commitment to getting bipartisan reforms through the Senate.
"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. The clock is ticking for every family facing an incurable disease - let’s get the job done,” Upton said.
Biden's efforts could likewise be aided by the White House's plan to create and manage a database containing the medical records of 1 million or more Americans with the hope the information would enable clinical trials of targeted therapies.
Obama unveiled his precision medicine initiative in his State of the Union Address last year. The president earmarked $130 million for this project for fiscal 2016.
The project's guidelines were released last fall. Volunteer participants are expected to begin enrolling in the cohort this year.