The White House on Sept. 12 announced that President Joe Biden intends to appoint Renee Wegrzyn, PhD, as the inaugural director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), a new agency within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for applied medical research (refer to Washington Highlights, May 27). Wegrzyn is currently vice president of business development at Gingko Bioworks working on applied synthetic biology. She previously served as a program director at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The president introduced Wegrzyn during his speech at the JFK Library in Boston about the Cancer Moonshot program.
A week earlier, on Sept. 8-9, the NIH Council of Councils, which oversees the NIH Common Fund in the Office of the Director, convened and, as part of its agenda, received a presentation from ARPA-H Acting Deputy Director Adam Russell, DPhil, on the new agency. He described ARPA-H’s mission as to “innovate high-impact health solutions for well-defined problems” and “demonstrate what health futures are possible for all.” Russell, who had previously served in DARPA, emphasized that a key feature of the agency is to identify projects that can have profound impact on a given field and which are not currently nor likely to be pursued by other organizations. He noted also that the agency must necessarily be prepared to accept failures in pursuit of high-risk, impactful innovations. The discussion with council members focused on the role of ARPA-H program directors who develop and select projects in a process very different from the NIH’s research project grant review. Discussion also centered on how ARPA-H is expected to complement NIH research.
The council earlier received a presentation from Larry Tabak, DDS, PhD, performing the duties of the NIH director, who described current NIH priorities, including research into long COVID-19 (the NIH RECOVER Initiative) and monkeypox. The NIH last week announced a clinical trial on TPOXX, an antiviral treatment for monkeypox.
The agenda, presentations, and archived video recording of the Council of Councils meetings are available on the NIH website.