"For the loved ones we have all lost, for the family we can still save, let us make America the country that cures cancer once and for all."
With those words in his State of the Union address Tuesday, President Barack Obama announced what the White House called a new initiative to fight cancer — and he put his vice president, Joe Biden, in charge.
"Because he's gone to the mat for all of us on so many issues over the past 40 years, I'm putting Joe in charge of mission control," Obama said.
Biden lost his son Beau to brain cancer in 2015. Since then, he has been vocal about his commitment to fighting the disease. In October, he spoke of the "many breakthroughs just on the horizon in science and medicine, the things that are just about to happen, and we can make them real, with an absolute national commitment to end cancer as we know it today."
American Cancer Society officials told VOA their hope is that the administration will create a strong central command-and-control function in the fight against cancer. Tuesday's announcement was important, it said, because "it gives us a goal. People start thinking about it."
Some of Biden's first efforts include a meeting Friday with relevant Cabinet secretaries to coordinate efforts to fight the hundreds, possibly thousands of different diseases that constitute cancer. Next week, the vice president will talk with international cancer experts at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Biden has spoken of the fight against cancer as a "moon shot," a reference to the massive coalition of government and business in the 1960s that resulted in the United States putting the first man on the moon in 1969.
Conquering cancer will be a daunting task, but Sidney Kilmer Cancer Center researcher William Nelson said great progress is being made.
“It has really been in the last decade or so that we have been able to use technologies to ask what are all the defective genes in any individual’s cancer, and can we use that information to plot a treatment likely to be effective for that person," Nelson said. "Every day, that is more and more possible.”
The White House said the effort to beat cancer has already begun, touting a $2 billion increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health in the recently passed federal spending bill.
Biden said the cancer fight is personal for him, for nearly every American, and for millions of people around the world.
In October, when he decided against running for the presidency, Biden said, "If I could be anything, I would want to be the president that ended cancer."
Perhaps now, instead, he'll be remembered as the vice president who oversaw the beginning of the end of this deadly disease.