By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — President Joe Biden has many connections to Philadelphia, one being his link to the University of Pennsylvania and launching the Cancer Moonshot project from there five years ago. That effort has led to many cancer breakthroughs.

The Cancer Moonshot project led to major federal funding for cancer, and now new treatments that are saving lives.

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“My goal is we find absolute cures,” Biden said in 2016.

That was then-Vice President Biden at the University of Pennslyvania five years ago to kick off the Cancer Moonshot.

“It’s a source of pride that the ribbon was cut here at the Abramson Cancer Center at Penn and the person, the leader of that, is now the president of the United States,” said Abramson Cancer Center Director Dr. Robert Vonderheide.

Biden is a president who knows the devastation of cancer, losing his 46-year-old son Beau to brain cancer.

“I only have one regret. He’s not here,” Biden said Tuesday.

After Beau died, his father dedicated his life to fighting cancer with the Moonshot project.

“The president talks about that a lot and how losing his son was so impactful. And we have those conversations with family of our patients a lot,” Vonderheide said.

Vonderheide says the Moonshot project brought an additional $1.8 billion in federal funding for cancer, and like landing on the moon, cancer research skyrocketed.

“It’s new initiatives, new therapies, and new ways importantly to prevent cancer in the first place,” he said.

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Therapies to help people stop smoking have lowered lung cancer deaths, and new molecular, genetic treatments are prolonging lives, even curing some cancers.

“We’ve seen multiple new therapies — 13 new therapies based on work done just here at Penn have been approved by the FDA,” Vonderheide said.

And now there’s a COVID connection. The vaccine technology comes from cancer research.

“It’s an amazing interplay of taking something originally thought for cancer, applying it to coronavirus and now bringing that technology back to cancer. The moon is now in our sights, let’s get ready to land,” Vonderheide said.

The American Cancer Society says there’s been a record-low number of cancer deaths in the past year.

Doctors credit much of that to innovations that came from the Moonshot project started by our new president in honor of his son.

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Stephanie Stahl