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Ex-government scientist named first head of ARPA-H

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PResident Joe Biden plans to appoint longtime biologist and former government scientist Renee Wegrzyn as the first director of the fledgling Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health.

Biden’s announcement comes as ARPA-H champions the debate over the multibillion-dollar agency headquarters and which elusive disease areas should be prioritized. The president officially launched the agency in March with initial funding of $1 billion from Congress, but the search for its first director took months.

Wegrzyn, 45, currently works at Boston-based Gingko Bioworks, a bioengineering company, but has previous experience at two government agencies. Activity Advanced Research Projects.

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“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. “Wegrzyn said in a statement nodding to the president’s goal. to end cancer deaths and reduce new cases. The scientist will join Biden at an event in Boston on Monday to promote Project Moonshot.

Wegrzyn is one of four former DARPA officials whom STAT reported in July had been interviewed for the ARPA-H position by White House science adviser Francis Collins. She won’t need Senate confirmation for her role, but is sure to face intense scrutiny from lawmakers who have questioned the need for a new health agency, arguing that ‘it could replicate the efforts of the National Institutes of Health.

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Proponents of Biden’s vision say ARPA-H will work on broad solutions — such as preparing products for market — rather than early research and will break with the NIH culture criticized by congressional skeptics as too risk averse.

“ARPA-H will create the space for transformation and collaboration needed to support the next generation of moonshots for health, not only for complex diseases like cancer, but also systemic barriers like gaps in the supply chain. supply and equitable access to advanced technologies and remedies for all. “said Wegrzyn.

At Gingko, the scientist led the business development and innovation of a subsidiary, Concentric, which implemented a Covid-19 monitoring and testing system for schools. Gingko itself uses synthetic biology for a variety of purposes, ranging from studying infectious diseases to developing biosafety.

Wegrzyn did similar work for DARPA, where she served as a program manager for the Office of Biological Technologies. His work there included the PREPARE the projectwhich targeted genetic responses to pathogens such as infectious diseases, and other gene editing programs.

The pandemic has underscored the need for biosafety research, she said Inside precision medicine last month. “We can’t be reactive to things like that,” she said. “We want to be proactive and recognize and detect these threats. Whether natural or man-made, many of the same systems will be used to respond to them.

Wegrzyn earned his Ph.D. in Applied Biology from Georgia Tech. She has served on the Scientific Advisory Boards of the National Academies of Science Board on Army Research and Development, Revive & Restore, Air Force Research Labs, Nuclear Threat Initiative, and Innovative Genomics Institute.