Biden touts new agency he says will drive breakthroughs in biomedicine

President Joe Biden speaks about additional security assistance that his administration will provide to Ukraine
AP/Patrick Semansky

President Biden on Friday touted the newly launched biomedical research agency, the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), saying it will pursue bold ideas and drive breakthroughs in medicine. 

“ARPA-H will have a singular purpose: to drive breakthroughs in biomedicine to prevent, detect and treat diseases including cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes,” Biden said in remarks at the White House.

ARPA-H officially launched this week, after a government spending bill Biden signed into law on Tuesday included $1 billion for the agency.

“ARPA-H will pursue ideas that break the mold on how we normally support fundamental research and commercial products in this country. Ideas so bold, no one else, not even the private sector, is willing to give them a chance or to sink a lot of money into trying to solve,” Biden said. “Ideas so audacious that people say they just might work only if, only if, we could try. Well, we’re about to try in a big way.” 

ARPA-H is modeled after the Defense Department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that develops emerging technologies for military use.

It will focus on equity, “because every American should have access to cutting edge health care and innovations and to make the impossible, possible,” Biden said. 

Biden met with researchers and patients to discuss the new agency and its goals to accelerate progress on curing cancer and other diseases, produce medical innovation and address disparities in health outcomes. 

DARPA Director Stephanie Tompkins joined the meeting, as well as Alondra Nelson, the head of the White House Office on Science and Technology, and Francis Collins, White House science adviser and former director of the National Institutes of Health.

The president also heard from a patient who he said benefited from DARPA research that enabled him to use a prosthetic arm to move and provide a sense of touch. 

The launch of ARPA-H is part of Biden’s focus on cancer research and follows him reigniting the “cancer moonshot” initiative last month. The initiative is focused on reducing the cancer death rate by 50 percent in 25 years, and its goals include diagnosing cancer sooner by increasing access to ways to screen for the disease, with a focus on equity and addressing inequities across race and region.

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