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Biden names veteran of last cancer moonshot to help direct new initiative

The appointment of neuroscientist Danielle Carnival is the latest sign that administration anti-cancer efforts are ramping up

President Biden fist-bumps a doctor at the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute at Ohio State University in March in Columbus. (Evan Vucci/AP)
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President Biden is naming Danielle Carnival, a veteran of the cancer moonshot during the Obama administration, to help oversee a new version of the effort — a cause that has long been of intense personal and professional interest to the president, according to the White House.

Carnival, a neuroscientist who is chief executive officer of an ALS nonprofit, will be a senior adviser to Eric Lander, the recently confirmed director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, according to a statement from the White House.

Carnival “will be working on patient engagement and outreach for cancer and other diseases building on the spirit and learnings from the Cancer Moonshot,” the statement said.

The announcement signals a ramping up of administration activity on the cancer front. Biden, during a February visit to Pfizer’s vaccine-manufacturing facility in Michigan, said, “I want you to know that, once we beat covid, we’re going to do everything we can to end cancer as we know it.”

In addition to efforts by the White House science office and the National Cancer Institute, the administration has asked Congress for $6.5 billion to fund a new agency, called Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, to propel breakthrough medical treatments for cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and other life-threatening diseases.

But the proposal has sparked some controversy because National Institutes of Health director Francis S. Collins favors basing the agency at NIH, but some patient groups and researchers have said it should be a stand-alone entity, perhaps housed in the Department of Health and Human Services. They worry that NIH’s time-consuming approach will hinder innovation in the new agency.

Biden has worked on anti-cancer initiatives for years. In 2015, he lost his son Beau to glioblastoma, a lethal brain cancer. In January 2016, President Barack Obama charged Biden with leading the cancer moonshot to accelerate progress against a disease that kills more than 600,000 people a year in the United States.

Biden has said some of his frustrations in dealing with his son’s disease — and with a complicated and confusing health-care system — helped prompt his moonshot efforts to press researchers to share data in a faster and more organized way.

Carnival served as chief of staff and senior policy director for the moonshot in 2016, after working for several years for the administration in other roles, including encouraging diversity in science and technology initiatives.

In 2017, she began a two-year stint as vice president of the Biden Cancer Initiative, a nonprofit that was designed to keep Biden involved in cancer advocacy. The organization suspended operations in July 2019, after the Bidens stepped away from the outfit to focus on his presidential bid.

Carnival is the chief executive officer of I Am ALS, a nonprofit that focuses on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neurodegenerative disease.

Carnival earned her Ph.D. in neuroscience at Georgetown University and a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry at Boston College.

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