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  • Washington Highlights

    HELP Committee Includes ARPA-H Authorization in Pandemic Preparedness Bill


    Christa Wagner, Manager, Government Relations

    The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee advanced new legislation to authorize the Advanced Research Projects Authority for Health (ARPA-H) as part of pandemic preparedness legislation advanced at a March 15 committee markup [refer to related store ]. The standalone ARPA-H Act (S. 3819) was initially introduced by committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-N.C.) on March 10.

    The bill would provide authorities to establish an initiative to foster faster development of medical interventions originally outlined in President Joe Biden’s fiscal year (FY) 2022 budget request [refer to Washington Highlights, June 4, 2021]. Two bills to establish the entity have been introduced in the House of Representatives this Congress [refer to Washington Highlights, Oct. 22, 2021; Nov. 19, 2021], and the FY 2022 spending bill signed by the president on March 15 provides $1 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services to establish ARPA-H. The spending bill also allows the secretary to transfer the new entity to any agency within the department, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), within 30 days of the bill’s enactment. The Senate bill does not authorize specific funding levels for the new initiative but adds that “any budget request for ARPA-H shall be separate from the other budget requests of the NIH.”

    “There’s no question [the COVID-19] pandemic would have been worse if we didn’t have the benefit of years of medical research that happened long before it began. Recent breakthroughs laid the groundwork that made it possible for us to develop safe, effective vaccines and treatments in record time and save countless lives,” stated Murray in a press release accompanying the bill’s introduction.

    “By working as an independent entity within the structure of the NIH, ARPA-H will have the ability to identify and invest in the best new ideas and technologies coming from the private sector and academia. … I look forward to continuing the Committee’s work to strengthen our nation’s biomedical research and development enterprise,” added Burr.

    The Senate proposal would establish the new research entity within the NIH, with a director appointed by the president for a four-year term who would report directly to the NIH director. The bill specifies that the new entity should be physically located outside of the Washington, D.C. region and prevents the director from hiring any personnel who have been employed by NIH in the three preceding years.

    Like the ARPA-H Act introduced in the House, the Senate bill would establish an advisory committee made up of federal officials from other health and research agencies with appropriate subject matter expertise.

    The authors of the House proposals previously stated they would work together to produce compromise legislation and subsequently considered their bills as part of a March 17 House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee legislative hearing [refer to related story].