Intelligence Community Wants Better Tech for COVID-19 and the Next Pandemic


IARPA is looking for early-stage research proposals in five key technology areas.

U.S. pandemic researchers and responders were caught flat-footed by COVID-19, but the intelligence community’s lead research division wants to catch up and be ready for the next viral outbreak.

The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, or IARPA, issued a broad agency announcement offering seedling funding for early-stage technology and methods that could revolutionize pandemic response. Specifically, the agency wants “quick turnaround projects for COVID-19 research topics.”

“Successful technology solutions will require creative, multidisciplinary methods, paradigm changing thinking, and transformative approaches,” the solicitation states. “Preference will be given to research with the ability to not only provide rapid capability against the current COVID-19 pandemic, but also enhanced warning and response capacity for future similar events.”

The current pandemic has highlighted capability gaps in five areas, according to the solicitation: 

  • Detection and Sensing: Including developing rapid diagnostics for symptomatic and asymptomatic people, with a focus on contactless approaches, such as breath sampling. Officials are also interested in hearing about potential RNA and DNA monitoring—“e.g., in wastewater or other environmental samples”—to detect new outbreaks and model scale and spread of the disease.
  • Supply Chain Management and Integrity: Building tools for mapping global supply chains for critical reagents and other important supplies; geographic areas at high-risk of supply shortages; and effects on local, regional and global medical supply chains during crises.
  • Geo-Spatio-Temporal Monitoring and Mapping, with Privacy Protection: Developing methods for “rapid and robust tracking,” including of individuals without mobile phones. Projects should include a focus on preserving individual privacy.
  • Collaboration Tools and Information Discovery and Reliability: Project managers are looking for new ways to identify and analyze data while ensuring “validity, intent and impact.” The tools should be able to identify relevant data from public sources, with a “focus on multilingual and multimodal data integration.”
  • Modeling, Simulation and Predictive Analytics: IARPA officials want analytical methods that use multiple data streams, including those that are not “intuitively correlated” but can add to the greater understanding of the disease, high-risk areas and impending outbreaks. The analytic work will also focus on the efficacy of social distancing and quarantine policies; surveillance and risk estimation for other animal-borne pathogens; and evaluating “future impacts of pandemic disease on political, economic, societal and technological development at local, regional, national and global scales.

“Proposals must explicitly address relevance of the technical approach to the current COVID-19 pandemic and extensibility to future pandemics, including a timeline for eventual implementation,” the solicitation states. “Proposals shall demonstrate that the proposed effort has the potential to make revolutionary, rather than incremental, improvements to current capabilities.”

Officials said proposals that will only deliver “evolutionary improvement to the existing state of practice” will not be considered.

As with other research and development outfits, IARPA takes advantage of staged funding to limit risk in innovative investments. For this project, the program plans to use a two-phase approach. Phase A will last for a maximum of four months, during which teams will work on initial proofs of concept. After evaluations, select teams will be chosen to move on to Phase B, which, by the end, will result in demonstrations that could lead to future funding opportunities.

Phase B is broken into two parts: an initial three-month period, at the end of which teams will be required to present a midterm report to IARPA project managers. Based on those reports, IARPA officials will determine whether the project will continue for the remaining five months of Phase B.

In total, both phases together are expected to take no more than 12 months and cost less than $1 million.

“This BAA solicits proposals for short-term, limited scope research in topic areas that are not addressed by emerging or ongoing IARPA programs or other published IARPA solicitations,” the solicitation states. “It is primarily, but not solely, intended for early stage research that may lead to larger, focused programs through a separate BAA in the future.”

IARPA officials plan to make multiple awards in the first round.

The program office plans to use a set of vendors as technical consultants, including reviewing proposals and evaluating progress throughout the project. The program plans to tap “Booz Allen Hamilton; Whitney, Bradley & Brown, Inc.; BRTRC Federal Solutions; Patriot Solutions Group; Airlin Technologies; Bluemont Technology and Research; Crimson Phoenix; Northwood Global Solutions; Onts & Quants, Inc.; Quantitative Scientific Solutions; SAIC; and Tarragon Solutions,” according to the solicitation.

In an update posted Friday, IARPA pushed the window for submitting proposals to June 5 through 11:59 p.m. June 7.