Former Government Scientist Named Inaugural Director of New Health Innovation Agency

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Dr. Renee Wegrzyn will lead the new agency––the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health––aimed at advancing biomedical innovation.

Former government biologist Dr. Renee Wegrzyn will be the inaugural director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, or ARPA-H, according to Monday’s White House statement about the appointment. 

ARPA-H sits under the Department of Health and Human Services and will be within the National Institutes of Health; it was launched by the department earlier this year to lead “high-risk, high-reward” biomedical and health investments. The agency was created by President Joe Biden to “push the limits of U.S. biomedical and health research and innovation.”

Wegrzyn will lead the agency’s research portfolio and budget, which will support an array of programs “to develop capabilities to prevent, detect and treat some of the most intractable diseases including cancer.” 

She is the vice president of business development at Ginkgo Bioworks––a Boston-based biological engineering company––and head of innovation at Concentric by Ginkgo, where she “focused on applying synthetic biology to outpace infectious disease.”

Wegrzyn has extensive experience in the ARPA model of government innovation, having previously worked at both the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity––both share similarities to the new ARPA-H. Some of her previous work included using “synthetic biology and gene editing to enhance biosecurity, promote public health and support the domestic bioeconomy.” She has also worked with a focus on biosecurity, gene therapies, emerging infectious disease, neuromodulation and synthetic biology, among others.

“I am deeply honored to have the opportunity to shape ARPA-H’s ambitious mission and foster a vision and approach that will improve health outcomes for the American people, including President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot,” Dr. Wegrzyn said. “ARPA-H will create the transformative and collaborative space that is required to support the next generation of moonshots for health—not only for complex diseases like cancer, but also systemic barriers like supply chain gaps and equitable access to breakthrough technologies and cures for everyone.”

Wegrzyn also received the Army’s Superior Public Service Medal for her work and contributions at DARPA. 

She has served on the scientific advisory boards for the National Academies of Science Board on Army Research and Development, Revive & Restore, Air Force Research Labs, Nuclear Threat Initiative and the Innovative Genomics Institute. 

Health Secretary Xavier Becerra tweeted “With Dr. Wegrzyn at the helm, ARPA-H is poised to drive health innovation and launch bold and ambitious research programs.”

As noted in the White House statement, the agency will pull talent and expertise from industry, academia and government in addition to utilizing public-private partnerships. In addition to advances in health, the agency will also develop biomedical and health technologies.

In March, President Biden previously asked for $5 billion to fund ARPA-H in his budget request

Today’s announcement comes as President Biden signed an executive order to launch a national biotechnology and biomanufacturing initiative, so the U.S. produces cutting-edge biotechnologies and bolsters its bioeconomy. Biden also discussed the Cancer Moonshot progress and other initiatives at a speech he delivered in Boston on Monday.