The US president has committed billions of dollars from the economic stimulus package, echoing Richard Nixon's 'war on cancer' in 1971.
At the same time, charity Cancer Research UK is rolling out 20 centres of excellence across the country in a five-year 1.5bn programme to fight cancers with the lowest survival rates.
Despite improvements in treatment, cancer remains one of the western world's biggest killers. In the US, cancer deaths have fallen just 5% since the 1950s.
In the UK deaths have fallen 17% since the 1970s. These figures compare unfavourably to huge improvements of about 60% in survival rates for heart disease and stroke over the same period.
Obama's pledge includes $10bn (6.8bn) over the next few years for the National Institutes of Health.
In a speech on his economic recovery plan, Obama said: "It will launch a new effort to conquer a disease that has touched the life of nearly every American, including me, by seeking a cure for cancer in our time." His mother died of ovarian cancer in her 50s and his grandfather suffered from prostate cancer.
The first three of Cancer Research UK's centres of excellence will be located in Birmingham, Liverpool and Belfast. Chief executive Harpal Kumar said: "Survival rates have improved for almost all of the common cancers. But there are still major challenges. We need an arsenal of weapons to target individual cancers."
The main types in the sights of researchers are lung, prostate, bowel, stomach and skin cancer.
More than 200,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with the disease every year, and nearly 1.5 million in the US. Experts agree the key to success is catching tumours early.
Cancer Research UK says there have been huge gains in survival rates, with almost half of cancer patients now surviving five years. Breast cancer has a survival rate of nearly 70%, while testicular and skin cancer and Hodgkin's disease have survival rates of more than 80%.
But the lung, pancreatic and oesophageal cancers have five-year survival rates of less than 5%.