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President Joe Biden issued an executive order Monday boosting the US biotech sector as part of his Cancer Moonshot initiative, which invokes the national effort to land a man on the Moon 60 years ago.
The Democrat was in Boston for an address deliberately set to echo John F. Kennedy's famous 1962 "Moonshot speech" in which he called for landing an American on the lunar surface -- something achieved in 1969.
This time, Biden is pushing for government-backed efforts to coordinate and fund a multilayered fight against cancer, with the goal of halving cancer death rates in the next 25 years.
As he set off from Washington, Biden issued an order meant to bolster the trailblazing US biotech sector's efforts to take on growing commercial rivals in China.
The order brings federal support for "areas that will define US biotechnology leadership and our economic competitiveness in the coming decades," a senior Biden administration official told reporters.
The official said that while US biotech research leads the world, the industrial applications are increasingly in the hands of other countries.
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"Unless we translate biotechnology innovation into economic and societal benefits for all Americans, other countries, including and especially China, are aggressively investing in this sector," posing a "risk," the official said.
The White House says the US biotech industry is on the cutting edge of medical advances -- recently seen in the rapid development of vaccines, tests and therapeutics to help manage the Covid-19 pandemic -- but that the potential scope goes much further.
The official speaking to reporters cited studies suggesting that "before the end of the decade, engineering biology holds the potential to be used in manufacturing industry that accounts for more than one third of global output. That's equivalent to almost $30 trillion in terms of value."
Growing areas for biotech industry include new plastics and rubbers, jet fuel, and environmentally friendly fertilizers.
Personal issue for Biden
The battle against cancer is personal for Biden: his son Beau died of brain cancer in 2015 when Biden was vice president to Barack Obama.
In his speech at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston, Biden will lay out how his administration is seeking to slash cancer rates through a systemic revamp of government funding and support for everything from medical research to improving access to healthcare and better environmental conditions.
The linkage to the Moon program will seek to raise public awareness and support ahead of midterm congressional elections where the Democrats face the possibility of a Republican sweep in Congress, something which would severely complicate the next two years of Biden's first term.
Caroline Kennedy, the US ambassador to Australia and daughter of the assassinated JFK, told CNN she approved of the parallels drawn by Biden in the struggle to conquer the deadly disease.
"Sixty years after my father challenged Americans to land on the moon, President Biden is welcoming great challenges as new opportunities by setting us on a bold course to end cancer as we know it," she said.
Biden's focus on the cancer fight comes as NASA is once again looking to return to the Moon.
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