mazzucato36_ JIM WATSONAFP via Getty Images_biden arpa-h JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

Biden’s Health Moonshot

With the creation of a federal agency focused on shepherding through breakthrough biotechnology innovations, the United States has a big opportunity to propel science forward while reducing drug prices and improving access to novel treatments. But first, political leaders must get the new agency's budget and design right.

LONDON – Although US President Joe Biden promised to lead with “science and truth,” his administration’s efforts to advance science have fallen short. Biden only recently named a commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, and he has yet to fill many other key science-policy positions, including the office of the White House Science Adviser and the director of the National Institutes of Health.

Nonetheless, Biden has made up some lost ground with his proposal to create a new health agency modeled on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Earlier this month, Congress allocated $1 billion to establish the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health. ARPA-H will use emerging science to create new biotechnologies and medicines, just as DARPA has applied basic research in defense, communications, and other sectors.

Improving clinical medicine requires bold thinking, a greater appetite for risk, and sustained commitment to goal-oriented research. Yet America has lacked an agency devoted to radical health innovation. Instead, this task has fallen to DARPA, which has managed to punch above its weight in delivering new medicines and vaccines. DARPA has been working on pandemic countermeasures since 2013, and in 2017 it founded the Pandemic Prevention Platform, which focused on developing RNA- and DNA-based vaccine and antibody technologies years before SARS-CoV-2 emerged.

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