The current administration is announcing the creation of a new agency, to be called ARPA-Healthcare (ARPA-H), an Advanced Research Projects Agency specifically for the purposes of providing lithe and creative funding for the start-up of innovative healthcare research and discoveries. It will be housed within the National Institutes of Health and have a 2022 budget of $6.5 billion. Its first ambitious goals, focus on diabetes and Alzheimer's, and find a cure for cancer.
This model of funding advanced research has already been used for the departments of defense, energy, and homeland security.
What makes this model so attractive to start-ups is how fast and flexible the funding decisions can be. Decisions both to fund and to cancel projects would be made much faster by program managers, instead of the normal lengthy peer review process that is very expensive and takes years. Instead of issuing traditional multiyear grants, ARPA-H project managers would disburse awards as milestone-driven payments. This would allow fast tracking for breakthrough ideas as well as the flexibility to pull out of projects that are not measuring up.
ARPA-H represents an important step toward what some would like to see for the revitalization of healthcare start-up research - fast funding and less oversight to spur creativity and rewards for significant progress. The placement of ARPA-H within the NIH was the fastest way to get it set up. The eventual success of this model could lead to the ARPA-Healthcare model moving to a stand-alone agency within the Department of Health and Human Services.
[I]nformed program managers will diversify the portfolio of health sciences research,” says Harvard University chemical biologist David Walt, a former chair of DARPA’s advisory council.