Sep 12, 2022 - News

Massachusetts forms coalition to fight for ARPA-H headquarters

Illustration of a hand holding a microscope slide with a liquid sample forming a dollar sign.
Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Massachusetts leaders are stepping up their fight to convince the Biden administration to headquarter a pioneering health research agency in the Bay State.

What's happening: MassBio president Joe Boncore announced Monday the launch of a coalition to campaign to host the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H).

  • The Coalition for Health Advances & Research in Massachusetts (CHARM), led by a steering committee of 14 business and government entities, is asking the state's leading health companies and institutions to sign a letter that it will send to President Biden making its pitch to host the new research agency.
  • ARPA-H is aimed at making health care breakthroughs, like treatments for Alzheimer's and diabetes.

Driving the news: The launch comes as Biden visits Boston Monday to deliver his "cancer moonshot" speech at the JFK Library on the 60th anniversary of President Kennedy's moonshot speech.

Why it matters: The coalition aims to make Massachusetts stand out above all other states vying for the ARPA-H headquarters, an institution that would solidify Greater Boston's status as one of the world's premier life sciences hubs.

  • The state's biotech industry exceeds 100,000 workers, more than twice as many as 18 years ago, according to MassBio's industry snapshot released last month.
  • And Massachusetts-based companies captured about one-quarter of all venture capital funding for pharmaceuticals in the U.S. in the first half of the year, per MassBio.

What they're saying: The president wants to get into the business of fighting the worst diseases, a battle Massachusetts is well suited for, Boncore tells Axios.

  • "What Massachusetts is known for is the small innovative companies that are taking on the hardest science and ultimately coming out with cures that will change the course of humanity, change health care and help patients," he says.

Context: The House approved a bill in June that creates an agency tasked with developing medical breakthroughs under the National Institutes of Health. Senate budget leaders are considering a similar proposal.

  • The Senate Appropriations Committee noted that ARPA-H will require a different, more entrepreneurial culture than NIH's other 27 institutes and one located "away from the main NIH campus" in Maryland, per a Congressional Research Service report.

The big picture: Massachusetts faces competition from Georgia, Texas and other states seeking to host ARPA-H.

  • The timeline for when Biden administration officials will choose a headquarters and develop ARPA-H remains unclear. The Health and Human Services' office did not respond to an email from Axios.

Zoom in: Boncore, Democratic U.S. Rep. Richie Neal and others expressed their interest in hosting ARPA-H in May, but the coalition signals state leaders are serious about competing for the headquarters.

  • The steering committee includes Harvard, MIT, Boston University, Northeastern and the Association of Independent Colleges & Universities in Massachusetts.
  • It also has representation from the congressional delegation, state government and the city of Boston, as well as the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center.

What's next: The group plans to send its letter to the White House in the coming weeks.

  • "We're going to be working together with government and academia and organizations to ensure that we're telling the Massachusetts story and putting our best foot forward," Boncore says.
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