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Health leaders propose ARPA-H

Leaders of the federal health and science community are looking to establish a health-based research agency, with the same flexible and nimble approach to innovation and experimentation as the Defense Department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

ARPA-H would work to foster broad creative solutions in health and medicine, focusing revolutionizing the prevention, treatment and cures for cancer, infectious diseases and other intractable illnesses. Unlike DARPA, which focuses on military solutions, “ARPA-H will need to create breakthrough innovations that serve an entire ecosystem and all populations,” according to commentary published in the journal Science by National Institutes of Health Director Francis S. Collins, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Eric S. Lander and others.

As part of the Biden administration’s budget proposal, ARPA-H would be part of NIH, funded with $6.5 billion over three years. It would support transformative research that is too risky for commercial investment. ARPA-H would collaborate with other federal health agencies “to identify critical needs and opportunities and to partner on complex projects that interact, for example, with public health infrastructure or medical regulation,” the authors wrote.

Some of the potential ARPA-H technologies envisioned include cancer vaccines, development of molecular “ZIP codes” that allow drugs to target cell types and small, highly accurate, inexpensive, non-intrusive wearables to monitor blood pressure and blood sugar, the authors said.

“Through bold, ambitious ideas and approaches, ARPA-H can help shape the future of health and medicine in the U.S. by transforming the seemingly impossible into reality,” the authors wrote. “Ultimately, ARPA-H will strive to propel us towards one goal: to directly improve the health of all Americans faster than was ever imagined to be achievable. The time to do this is now -- we cannot afford to wait.”

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