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Pitch to secure ARPA-H headquarters location begins

July 14, 2022
By: Emily Schabes

With a $1 billion investment over the next three years, Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) will be a standalone agency within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and is designed to produce quicker research outcomes. Published reports indicate multiple states are currently positioning themselves to host the headquarters of the new agency, with California, Georgia, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas, having stated their interest in hosting the new headquarters.

States are making similar arguments as to why their state should host the ARPA-H headquarters. Most arguments, like that of Massachusetts, include citation of prestigious universities, research facilities and biotech companies in the state. Other states, such as Texas, make the argument that there is high demand for medical services in states that may not be thought of initially as healthcare and bioscience hubs.

ARPA-H was proposed in 2021 and is intended to be similarly structured to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), but ARPA-H will be focused on healthcare technology innovation and finding cures for diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes.

The House has already passed legislation to establish ARPA-H as a standalone agency, and legislation has been introduced in the Senate that would establish ARPA-H within NIH. On May 25, 2022, ARPA-H was formally established as an independent agency within NIH.

Arguments originally surrounded whether or not ARPA-H would be placed at NIH, which currently has the legal and administrative capacity to host the new ARPA-H headquarters. However, critics contend ARPA-H should be separate from NIH because of how the NIH funds research, with one health care policy analyst writing, “ARPA-H needs a far less risk-averse culture than the NIH can provide.”

According to Government Executive, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra told lawmakers before a hearing, ARPA-H would be, “more nimble, more facile and be able to break away from the tethers of governance” if placed within NIH. However, lawmakers have been torn about this issue, as NIH and ARPA-H have different research purposes and goals.

Government Executive also notes Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), who sponsored the legislation to establish the agency, supports ARPA-H as an independent agency and “said there is a large gap between the risks NIH is willing to take in research and what the private sector sees as a sufficient return in funding. ARPA-H will bridge that gap, she said, if it is afforded the independence it requires to ensure ‘breakthrough discoveries can be realized on the deadliest diseases we face.’”

The independence of ARPA-H will likely continue to be a point of contention between lawmakers as the agency establishment process continues. Although some aspects of ARPA-H have been decided, such as that teams will take on a number of projects to quickly produce outcomes and that the director will report to the secretary of HHS, the overall structure of the agency has not been confirmed.


nih, arpa-h, federal agency