President Biden intends to appoint Dr. Renee Wegrzyn as inaugural director of the newly established Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), which is housed within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

As director, Dr. Wegrzyn will be responsible for overseeing the agency’s growing research portfolio and associated budget, according to the White House announcement.

Dr. Wegrzyn has served at the institution that inspired ARPA-H’s creation – the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) – which is a research and development agency within the Department of Defense.

At DARPA, Dr. Wegrzyn served as a program manager in the Biological Technologies Office, where she “leveraged the tools of synthetic biology and gene editing to enhance biosecurity, promote public health, and support the domestic bioeconomy.” She received the Superior Public Service Medal for her work at DARPA.

“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 in a press release.

“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,” she added.

Dr. Wegrzyn is currently vice president of business development at Ginkgo Bioworks and head of innovation at Concentric by Ginkgo, where she “is focused on applying synthetic biology to outpace infectious diseases.”

HHS officially launched ARPA-H – which sits within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as an independent entity – in May. HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra explained by having a separate agency dedicated to advanced disease research within NIH, ARPA-H will be able to “accelerate” health breakthroughs and build upon NIH’s existing research portfolio.

President Biden made ARPA-H official through the fiscal year 2022 omnibus appropriations bill, which included $1 billion to create the new agency.

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.