HCN News & Notes

State to Compete for Biomedical Research Agency 

On Monday, a new effort was launched to rally support for locating the newly-funded federal Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) in Massachusetts. The effort includes top leaders from Massachusetts higher education, industry and government convened by Governor Charlie Baker, U.S. House Committee on Ways & Means Chair Richard E. Neal, University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan, and MassBio CEO Joe Boncore. 

ARPA-H was created by the Biden Administration to accelerate research aimed at preventing and curing diseases ranging from infectious disease, chronic disease, Alzheimer’s, and cancer. The March 2022 omnibus passed by Congress and signed into law by the president invested $1 billion to launch ARPA-H. The president’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget proposal includes an additional $6.5 billion in funding for ARPA-H for the next three years. 

The agency is modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and is designed to be more agile than the National Institutes of Health (NIH). ARPA-H does not yet have an agency headquarters.  

“Massachusetts is a global hub for health care research, life sciences, and academia, making our state a highly attractive place for the headquarters of the new ARPA-H agency,” said Governor Baker.“We look forward to working with our partners in government, higher education and the vibrant life sciences and health care sectors of our economy to make a strong case for the Commonwealth to be the home of this exciting new agency.” 

Said Neal, “Massachusetts has the finest hospitals, colleges and universities, and biotech sector in the world. When it comes to healthcare, higher education, and innovation, we are at the forefront of global leadership. Massachusetts is an international hub for medical research and development, which is why our state is the best location for ARPA-H. I am eager to make this a reality.” 

Said Meehan, “there is no place in the world better equipped than Massachusetts to host the ARPA-H agency and accelerate innovation through biomedical research. As we have learned throughout the COVID-19 pandemic we need to be faster and more proactive in confronting global health threats, and this new initiative will advance that mission.”   

With several states expected to pursue the headquarters for ARPA-H, Baker, Neal, Meehan, and Boncore stressed the importance of rapidly building the strongest possible case for Massachusetts, grounded by the concentration of world-class research universities, hospitals, companies, and a bi-partisan commitment in government to build the life sciences ecosystem. 

Massachusetts continues to see solid indicators of the strength of the life sciences industry and the outsized role the state plays nationally; 18 of the top 20 biopharma companies in the world have a presence in Massachusetts. In 2021, Massachusetts saw a record-breaking 70% increase in venture capital (VC) funding, representing 36 percent of the total national VC biopharma investments. Demand for lab space remains high as companies are eager to be in Massachusetts; the state has built and filled over 21.6 million square feet of lab space over the last 10 years, with a projected 20 million new square feet in the next five years.  

For more than a decade, Massachusetts has focused on sustaining and strengthening the Commonwealth’s nation-leading life sciences sector. In 2008, the Commonwealth made a $1 billion, 10-year commitment to solidify the state’s prominence in the life sciences. This ambitious effort, known as the Massachusetts Life Sciences Initiative, created a body, the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, charged with carrying out the initiative. In 2018, the Massachusetts Legislature passed, and Governor Baker signed legislation to invest up to $623 million in bond authorization and tax credits over five years in education, research and development, and workforce training.