White House nominates biotech expert as inaugural director of ARPA-H
Written by Dave Nyczepir
President Biden plans to appoint Renee Wegrzyn as the first director of the new Advanced Health Research Projects Agency, which will lead his Moonshot cancer project, the White House announced Monday.
Wegrzyn is responsible for shaping ARPA-H’s research portfolio to develop biomedical innovations to prevent, detect and treat persistent diseases, namely cancer.
Wegrzyn must be confirmed by the Senate, the appointment going first through the committee, before becoming director. She will be the first head of the health R&D agency, which was formally nominated by President Biden during his State of the Union address in March.
The 21st Century Cures Act of 2016 originally funded the Cancer Moonshot, advancing new areas of research, and Biden announced the next phase to begin 2022 with the goal of halving the death rate within 25 years. Biden established ARPA-H in March to attract diverse biomedical and health research talent across sectors and form public-private partnerships leading to more effective and accessible treatments for cancer and other diseases.
The announcement comes on the 60th anniversary of President Kennedy’s Moonshot Speech and follows the appointment of a number of high-level women to senior positions in federal agencies. Wegrzyn previously worked at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, while Biden’s pick for Office of Science and Technology Policy director Arati Prabhakar had served as director of both DARPA and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
“I have seen firsthand the tremendous expertise and energy that America’s biomedical and biotech enterprise can bring to solving some of the toughest health problems,” Wegrzyn said in a statement. “ARPA-H will create the space for transformation and collaboration needed to support the next generation of moonshots for health, not only for complex diseases like cancer, but also systemic barriers like gaps in the supply chain. supply and equitable access to advanced technologies and remedies for all. .”
Wegrzyn is currently Vice President of Business Development at Ginkgo Bioworks and Head of Innovation at Concentric by Ginkgo, roles that involve using synthetic biology to get ahead of infectious diseases like COVID-19 through biomanufacturing, vaccine development and biomonitoring of pathogens.
Prior to that, Wegrzyn was a program officer in DARPA’s Office of Biological Technologies, where she received the Senior Public Service Medal for her work to improve biosafety, promote public health, and support the national bioeconomy.
Wegrzyn has also served on the National Academies of Sciences Council on Army Research and Development, as well as the Scientific Advisory Boards of Revive & Restore, Air Force Research Laboratories, Nuclear Threat Initiative and the Institute for Innovative Genomics.