Washington Update

Lander Sets Framework and Future for ARPA-H

By: Beth Oates
Thursday, June 17, 2021

On June 11, Eric Lander, PhD, newly appointed Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and Science Advisor to the President, presented an update to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) on President Biden’s proposed Advanced Research Projects Agency—Health (ARPA-H). The goal of ARPA-H is to further progress and advance U.S. scientific competitiveness. Biden’s recently released fiscal year 2022 budget proposal includes a request of $6.5 billion over three years for this new entity.

Dr. Lander highlighted that the overarching mission of ARPA-H will be to support high-risk breakthrough technologies and projects that extend beyond traditional research or commercial endeavors. This mission is motivated by the current research landscape, which Dr. Lander categorized into two sections: fundamental biomedical research and commercial research and development. ARPA-H projects could bridge existing gaps between these two categories by facilitating the coordination and collaboration of costly, risky, and market-ready opportunities.

Regarding ARPA-H’s operational details, Dr. Lander explained that while the agency will be connected to NIH, it will function as a distinct entity with an independent culture, organization, and priorities. This includes a separate peer review and selection process for ARPA-H proposals. Additionally, he emphasized the importance of cultivating a sustainable, nimble environment within the agency, particularly through transparent leadership and careful consideration between risk-tolerance and scientific creativity. In response to ongoing skepticism of the agency’s budget, he clarified that ARPA-H funding will not detract from the NIH base budget and acknowledged that biomedical research will remain primarily supported through traditional funding mechanisms and commercialization opportunities.