Jul 7, 2022 - News

Philadelphia area seeks to attract new federal science agency HQ

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

Philadelphia has joined a bidding war among a number of states and cities interested in housing the headquarters of a multibillion dollar new science agency aimed at curing major diseases.

Why it matters: The Advanced Research Project Agency for Health, or ARPA-H, is a pet project of President Biden's that would focus on breakthrough health care and technology innovations, looking for and funding ways to cure cancer, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes and more, Axios Atlanta's Emma Hurt writes.

State of play: While ARPA-H's director would report to the secretary of Health and Human Services, the agency's structure remains undecided beyond that.

  • The House passed a bill in June to establish it as a stand-alone agency, but the Senate has yet to take up the matter.

The big picture: A Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) spokesperson told Axios they "have made no commitments as to the physical location of ARPA-H," and that the decision will be up to the agency's inaugural director and the HHS secretary.

Zoom in: The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia announced a regional effort last week to attract the ARPA-H to the area, citing its "deep scientific and medical ecosystem" and "expertise in cell and gene therapy and gene editing."

  • More than 80 regional leaders — from elected officials to CEOs — signed a letter outlining why the agency should be housed here, including Mayor Jim Kenney, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia CEO Madeline Bell, Wawa CEO Chris Gheysens and Temple and Drexel university presidents.

Between the lines: The chamber also noted that Philadelphia ranks among the top life sciences markets in the U.S.

  • A report published last month by CBRE, an investment management firm, put the Philadelphia area at No. 8 in its ranking of life sciences clusters, based on cities' jobs, local wages, cost of living and other factors.
  • The New York/New Jersey area ranked fourth, with Boston/Cambridge holding the top spot.

What they're saying: In its letter, the chamber touts the tri-state region's "world-class research institutions" and its headquarters for biopharmaceutical leaders, such as Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and Merck.

  • "We feel that Greater Philadelphia's position as a global hub of research, talent, capital, and companies, combined with its second-to-none accessibility, give this region the power to forever transform how health care is delivered to patients and essentially cure the incurable," the letter states.
Data: CBRE; Chart: Axios Visuals
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