Biden Picks Biotech Director to Lead New Biomedical Research Agency

WASHINGTON – President Biden, who outlines his vision for a “bold approach” to fighting cancer and other diseases, announced Monday that he has selected Dr. Renee Wegrzyn, an executive biotech in Boston with government experience, serves as director of a new federal agency that aims to pursue high-impact, risky ideas that will advance biomedical innovation.

Mr. Biden made the announcement at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, on the 60th anniversary of the former president’s “moonshot” speech that ushered in the era of space travel. He took the opportunity to reiterate his call to “end cancer as we know it” – the tagline for his own “cancer detection” initiative.

“Imagine the possibilities – a vaccine could prevent cancer, just like it does for HPV,” said the president, referring to the human papillomavirus, which can cause Cervical and other cancers. “Imagine molecular ZIP codes that could deliver drugs and gene therapy precisely, to the right tissues. Imagine how simple blood tests during an annual physical exam could detect cancer early.”

Mr. Biden, has a son Beau died of brain cancer in 2015, has a deeply personal commitment to advancing cancer research, and the Kennedy library is a reminder of that. Another Kennedy, former Senator Edward M. Kennedy, whom Mr. Biden described as “one of my dearest friends,” died in 2009 of the same cancer – neuroblastoma. buffer – is Beau Biden.

Mr. Biden helped create the picture of cancer when he was vice president. Its goal, which he describes as “absolutely doable,” is to reduce cancer mortality by at least 50% over the next 25 years, while turning “death sentences into chronic disease.” “

He proposed the new biomedical research agency this year as part of an effort to revive the initiative.

Modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the new agency is called the Health Advanced Research Projects Agency. (In Washington, where every agency has an acronym, the defense research agency is called DARPA and health authorities To be ARPA-FUL.)

The agency is supposed to be nimble and nimble – a sort of “Shark Tank” for biomedical research, with “visionary talents” who will invest in unprecedented approaches. tested, knowing that “probably a significant portion of projects will fail,” said Dr. Francis Collins, a former director of the National Institutes of Health, now Biden’s acting science adviser and a fellow helped lead the search for the new director said.

Dr Wegrzyn is Ginkgo Bioworks’ vice president of business development and head of innovation at Concentric by Ginkgo, the company’s initiative to accelerate coronavirus testing and track the spread of viruses. She also works at DARPA and its sister agency, Intelligence Advancement Research Project Operations.

“Some of the problems we face every day – especially in health and disease – are so great that they seem insurmountable,” Dr. Wegrzyn said in a statement provided by the White House. grant. “I have seen firsthand the immense expertise and energy that the US biotech and biomedical business can bring to address some of the most extreme health challenges.”

Congress spent $1 billion on ARPA-H, which is housed within the National Institutes of Health but reports directly to Xavier Becerra, secretary of health and human services — an agreement meant to keep the new agency not get caught up in the federal bureaucracy. While its director is not a Senate-confirmed position, Mr. Biden could face opposition from Republicans, some of whom have argued that the agency duplicates those positions. NIH’s efforts.

The agency had an acting deputy director, Adam H. Russell, is also a DARPA alumnus who has been setting up the technical infrastructure and other facilities to make the new agency a success. Dr. Collins said Dr. Wegrzyn will start work on October 1. Her main goal will be to hire program managers who will bring the bold ideas the company wants to follow. pursued and she will spend a limited period of time, perhaps three years, at he said.

“They will come, they will do a bit of due diligence, and then they will have to present the idea to Dr. Wegrzyn,” said Dr. Collins. “If she says no, then they use the money to spend, to figure out how to combine the right partners to get the job done.”

Launching successful new initiatives will take time, he said. But Steve Brozak, an investment banker whose firm WBB Securities specializes in biotechnology, says that if the agency is to succeed, Dr Wegrzyn will have to quickly differentiate his work from the rest of the industry. federal bureaucracy.

“What she needs to do is win the board right away,” he said. “That doesn’t mean money. That means something can be identified in promoting healthcare for all, outside of the current model.”

Mr. Biden’s pick drew praise from Ellen V. Sigal, president of Friends of Cancer Research, a nonprofit that works with industry and government to promote new therapies. Ms. Sigal called Dr Wegrzyn “an inspiring choice”, adding that “she is a proven leader and innovator, knowledgeable in science, who knows how to make government work. and understand the urgency for patients across the country.”

In addition to announcing his intention to appoint Dr. Wegrzyn, on Monday, Mr. Biden issued an executive order establishing a biotechnological and bio-manufacturing initiative aimed at putting the United States at the forefront. in this field and as a center for domestic drug production. The coronavirus pandemic exposes serious weaknesses in the supply chain of life-saving drugs and therapies.

“The United States has become too dependent on foreign materials for biomanufacturing,” the White House said in a statement, “and our past for critical industries, including technology biopharmaceuticals, pose a threat to our access to critical ingredients such as the active pharmaceutical ingredient that makes life-saving drugs. “

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