TAMPA — First lady Jill Biden visited Moffitt Cancer Center on Friday as the White House reignites its “Cancer Moonshot” initiative that aims to cut cancer deaths in half in the next 25 years.
Biden toured the facility for about an hour and met with doctors and scientists, who told her about the importance of research and collaboration. She held hands with Patti Halula, a 58-year-old metastatic breast cancer survivor, promising to “keep the train going” on cancer research as Halula shared her story.
“Early detection is key,” Biden said. “Because of the pandemic, so many people have not been doing that. We want to get people back to regular screenings.”
Research, treatment and screening services in cancer centers like Moffitt play a critical role in the fight to end cancer, said Ned Sharpless, director of the National Cancer Institute, who joined Biden on the tour. Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa and Patrick Hwu, Moffitt’s president and CEO, also joined.
Biden started her visit in a tumor biology research lab, where five cancer research students shared their projects with the first lady. Biden learned about Moffitt’s Patient Researcher Forum, a program that brings patients and caregivers to meet and learn from researchers.
The goal of that program is to help patients feel engaged in their own recovery and give researchers a sense of mission, said Eric Lau, the lab’s principal investigator and a creator of the Patient Researcher Forum.
Lau said that he hopes Cancer Moonshot will bring more funding to research labs and allow more research collaboration.
Biden also toured the Mole Patrol, a vehicle that travels Florida to provide free skin cancer screenings. Florida has one of the highest rates in the country of melanoma, a type of deadly skin cancer, second only to California. The RV allows underinsured communities or those who don’t consider themselves traditionally at risk for skin cancer to benefit from early detection.
President Joe Biden originally launched the Cancer Moonshot initiative as vice president in 2016, after his son Beau died in 2015 from brain cancer. The original goal was for the country to achieve 10 years’ worth of cancer research in five years. Congress authorized $1.8 billion to fund the program over seven years, and $400 million remains. The administration has yet to announce additional funding for Cancer Moonshot 2.0.
The relaunched initiative will include a Cancer Moonshot summit, a website where people can track the program’s progress, and a Cancer Cabinet, which includes representatives from the National Cancer Institute, Department of Defense, Environmental Protection Agency and others across the executive branch.
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This is not Moffitt’s first high-profile visit in recent months. Florida’s first lady, Casey DeSantis, who has breast cancer, visited Moffitt in December, where she announced that the governor would request $100 million for cancer research in his 2022-23 budget proposal.