Biden appoints Ginkgo Bioworks’ Renee Wegrzyn as 1st director of ARPA-H

By The Science Advisory Board staff writers

September 13, 2022 -- President Joe Biden on Monday appointed biologist and former government scientist Renee Wegrzyn, PhD, as the inaugural director of the new Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H).

Wegrzyn is currently a vice president of business development at Boston-based Ginkgo Bioworks, a biotech company that specializes in using genetic engineering to produce bacteria with industrial applications. She has also worked for two institutions that inspired the creation of ARPA-H -- the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity.

Biden called Wegrzyn a "leading biomedical scientist" with "a decade of experience leading multiple biotech projects at DARPA." As an entrepreneur in synthetic biology, the president said she will "bring the legendary DARPA attitude and culture and boldness and risk-taking to ARPA-H," adding that the agency will have the "singular purpose to drive breakthroughs to prevent, detect, and treat diseases -- including cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, and other diseases."

In March, Biden launched ARPA-H with $1 billion in initial funding from Congress to drive biomedical innovation aimed at preventing, detecting, and treating some of the most intractable diseases. ARPA-H plans to tap talent and expertise from across industry, academia, and government, while marshalling resources through public-private partnerships.

"Basic research breakthroughs need to be tested, scaled, and brought to the clinic. This may require unusual partnerships that may require support to get over many obstacles that exist. That's what ARPA-H is designed to do," Biden said.

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