Move over, DARPA and ARPA–E. Legislation introduced recently in the House aims to add an “ARPA–H” to the U.S. government’s roster of purpose-driven advanced research agencies.
The ‘‘ARPA–H Act’’ would appropriate $3 billion to create a new Advanced Research Projects Agency–Health, modeled on the existing agencies for defense and energy research, but focused instead on biomedical innovation. Its mission would be to foster the development of “breakthrough capabilities, technologies, systems, and platforms to accelerate innovations in health and medicine,” with a specific focus on taking risks to develop transformative health technologies and “high-need cures” for serious diseases.
Taking its cues from the highly autonomous structure and wide array of projects that DARPA and ARPA–E pursue, the new agency would focus on areas that would otherwise not have been explored in commercial R&D, including those with limited funding or technical certainty. ARPA–H also would be charged with increasing interdisciplinary collaboration in health by partnering with higher education, federal agencies, and the public and private industries, through grants, contracts, and other partnerships.
Proponents hope creating an advanced research agency for health will bridge the gap that exists between current federal health projects and academic and industry research. The idea has been on the drawing board for several years in various forms. President Biden has previously proposed housing one in the National Institutes of Health, while others have expressed concerns that it would be weighed down by bureaucracy unless it is created independently as a free-standing agency of its own.
The new bill, introduced by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), was originally included in the $3.5 trillion spending package that congressional Democrats hoped to pass by the end of September. But it was cut from the package earlier this month because it is outside the scope of budget reconciliation rules.
Despite being dropped from the package, the bill has bipartisan support. In addition to Eshoo’s standalone legislation, Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Fred Upton (R-MI) plan to include the agency in a bill called 21st Century Cures 2.0, which has not yet been formally introduced.