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Politics, Policy & Law

ARPA-H, Biden’s DARPA for health, raises hopes, skepticism

Biggest controversy over ARPA-H is whether it should be part of NIH 

The biggest controversy over ARPA-H is whether it should be part of NIH. 

May 28, 2021 | 11:30 PM GMT

A proposed new government body, the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Health, will make it possible to “end cancer as we know it” and hasten the demise of Alzheimer’s, diabetes and other diseases, President Joe Biden told the American people at his first address to a joint session of Congress last month.

ARPA-H is, according to supporters, an antidote to the bureaucracy and incrementalism that some patient advocates believe prevents NIH from turning an investment of over $50 billion per year into transformative medicines.

To critics in the scientific community, ARPA-H is a solution in search of a problem, a shiny object that is unlikely to come close to fulfilling the promises Biden has made. While even NIH’s most enthusiastic supporters acknowledge that there is a lot of opportunity to improve the way it operates, they also are concerned that a focus on short-term results could undermine approaches that have made possible advances such as CAR T therapies, vaccines to prevent cervical cancer, and technologies to detect and cure hepatitis C.

They warn that after the initial enthusiasm fades, funding ARAP-H could cut into NIH’s budget.

Biden says ARPA-H will tackle cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes, diseases that aren’t starved for government funding and don’t suffer from a lack of private sector investment. The White House is asking for $6.5 billion spread over three years for ARPA-H, a budget that is equivalent to the R&D spending of a mid-sized pharmaceutical company.

While there is vigorous dispute over the merits of ARPA-H, there is no doubt among its supporters and opponents that it will be created.

ARPA-H is a manifestation of the American public’s confidence in the power of science to improve and extend lives,

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