Obama launches mission to cure cancer 'once and for all'

WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama on Tuesday pledged to undertake a historic push to develop a cure for cancer, tapping Vice President Joe Biden to lead the effort.

Obama, in the last State of the Union address of his presidency, said America must use its spirit of innovation to help tackle the challenge of cancer.

"For the loved ones we've all lost, for the family we can still save, let's make America the country that cures cancer once and for all," Obama said.

As Biden smiled from his seat behind the president, Obama said he would put the vice president in charge of "mission control" for the effort.

Biden, who lost his 46-year old son to brain cancer last year, received a standing ovation from lawmakers when Obama made the announcement.

Following his son's death, Biden said he would not run for president in 2016, but he promised he would focus his remaining time in office on working on a "moon shot" to end cancer.

In a blog post released during the State of the Union address, Biden said the White House would focus on increasing public and private resources to fight the disease and to improve information sharing among researchers and medical professionals.

"It's personal for me," Biden said, regarding the push.

He will travel on Friday to the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine to speak with physicians and next week he will meet with experts at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland to discuss the initiative.

The cancer initiative will build upon the $2 billion increase in funding approved for the National Institutes of Health last year, White House chief economist Jason Furman told reporters ahead of Obama speech.

Earlier this month, private companies and academic cancer centres joined together to launch their own mission to fight cancer. The Cancer Moonshot 2020 programme is aimed at developing a vaccine-based immunotherapy to combat cancer by the end of the decade.

Companies involved include Celgene Corp, Amgen Inc and NantKwest Inc.

In his speech, Obama also stressed that the United States should continue to help fight against disease in African countries and around the world.

"Right now, we are on track to end the scourge of HIV/AIDS, and we have the capacity to accomplish the same thing with malaria," Obama said, noting that he would push Congress to fund this effort in 2016.