House passes bill to create health agency focused on biomedical innovation

The House passed a bill on Wednesday to create a new health agency centered on expediting biomedical innovation in an effort to find innovative mechanisms to detect and treat a range of diseases including cancer.

The legislation, dubbed the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Health Act, passed in a 336-85 vote, with all “no” votes coming from Republicans. Six Republicans and two Democrats did not vote.

The bill calls for establishing the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Health (ARPA-H) within the Department of Health and Human Services.

The goal of the agency, according to the legislation, is to “foster the development of new, breakthrough capabilities, technologies, systems, and platforms to accelerate innovations in health and medicine that are not being met by Federal programs or private entities.”

The bill also says the new agency would work to expand “transformative health technologies,” which lawmakers say would dramatically change the act of detecting, diagnosing, mitigating, preventing, treating and curing significant diseases and medical conditions.

To achieve these goals, the bill would direct the new agency to discover and promote new health science advances and develop new analytical techniques to help with early detection and intervention of diseases.

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) on the House floor said the new agency will help “make the impossible possible.”

“What we need more now is an all-hands-on-deck approach to end these illnesses, and that’s exactly why this legislation was developed,” DeGette said during debate on the legislation.

“[I]t will create a new advanced research agency, ARPA-H, which will bring together some of the world’s greatest minds and give them access to the federal government’s seemingly-unlimited resources to make the impossible possible,” she added.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said the new program will be “game-changing health research,” likening it to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, which is the agency within the Defense Department that oversees research and development programs.

“Like DARPA, this entity is gonna be focused on producing research on things that frankly may be too risky for the private sector. It’s gonna move at a faster pace than the current structure,” Upton said.

“There may be a high failure rate, but its successes are gonna have the potential to be absolutely ground-breaking, answering the prayers of millions,” he added.

The Biden administration threw its support behind the bill earlier this week. In a statement of administration policy, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said the bill “will provide a novel pathway to catalyzing transformative health breakthroughs that cannot readily be accomplished through traditional research or commercial activity.”

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