Biden Proposes ARPA-H, a Health Research Agency to ‘end Cancer’ Modeled After DARPA

In a joint speech to Congress last night, President Biden updated the nation about the vaccination effort and outlined his administration’s ambitious goals. Biden’s first 100-day legislative packages have identified millions of Americans as living in poverty and the climate crisis, but during his first joint address to Congress, the president outlined another small plan that is no less important: We know.”

“I can no longer think of a suitable investment,” Biden said Wednesday night. “I do not know anything more bilateral than that. We have the power to do that.” The comments were not out of the blue. Earlier this month, the White House announced a $6.5 billion budget request to launch a new government agency for groundbreaking health research. The proposed health agency would be called ARPA-H and would be within the NIH.

The initial focus will be on cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s, but the agency will follow other “transformational innovations” that could reshape health research. $6.5 billion investment is a part of the full $51 billion NIH budget but some critics think that ARPA-H should sit under the Department of Health and Human Services instead of housing under NIH. 

ARPA-H will be modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) by creating technology like moonshot for defense applications. DARPA’s goals often sound more like science fiction than science fiction, but the company has contributed to or created the most modern ubiquitous technology, including the predecessor of GPS and the most famous ARPANET, the growing computer network in modern networks. In contrast to a more conservative, incremental research team, DARPA aggressively pursues a scientific advance that shares more with Silicon Valley than any other government agency.

Biden believes that using the DRPA model in health research will prevent the United States from lagging behind in biotech. “China and other countries are closing fast,” Biden said during the speech. “We need to develop and dominate the products and technologies of the future: advanced batteries, biotechnology, computer chips and clean energy.”