On March 16, 2022, President Biden signed the $1.5 trillion omnibus spending bill to fund the government through September and avoid a shutdown. Importantly, the bill includes initial funding to establish the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), a key component of the Cancer Moonshot initiative with the goal of reducing cancer deaths by 50% in 25 years. The Administration sought $6.5 billion to fund the agency for three years. The bill falls short of that, providing $1 billion for one year. It does, however, achieve the goal of making the new agency a reality and the expectation that additional funding will be sought for 2023.
ARPA-H’s sole purpose is to cure the world’s leading health diseases such as cancer, diabetes, ALS, Alzheimer’s, and others. ARPA-H will invest in various research areas, including the development of a cancer vaccine. In a significant departure from the funding model at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), ARPA-H will be tasked with building high-risk, but high-reward research capabilities or platforms to drive biomedical breakthroughs.
NIH is the global leader in biomedical research and is structured to fund only the highest quality research. Investigators who seek funding need to provide initial data that demonstrates a likelihood of success to receive a grant. This peer-review process ensures research excellence, but it is not oriented to supporting “out-of-the-box” novel concepts. That will be the role now for ARPA-H, to take risks funding on the cutting edge.
Interestingly, both the Biden Administration and the CURES 2.0 bill placed the new ARPA-H agency within the NIH, but the omnibus spending bill has it housed under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). There is no statement for why this was changed, however, the bill does allow HHS to move the new agency into NIH at its discretion.
The spending bill also recognizes the broad role and value of research and technology. The bill increases funding for biomedical research at NIH by 4.6%. It also provides increases for the National Science Foundation, NASA, the Department of Energy, and other science-related agencies.
It is vital that ARPA-H is not just a one-year or one administration project, but the focal point for continuing research efforts seeking a cure for cancer. The Colorectal Cancer Alliance will make increased funding for ARPA-H a top priority in our advocacy efforts focused on 2023 appropriations.
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