A Biomedical DARPA? Yes, But Not at NIH

Creating a health-research counterpart to DARPA, the Pentagon's legendary Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, makes tremendous sense. DARPA, the freewheeling, cash-laden nest of sci-tech wizards, sired the Internet, stealth technology, the global positioning system, the Predator unmanned aircraft, and many more innovations throughout the Cold War and beyond. Call the biomedical version BARPA, and let it roll. Great. But if it's going to happen--and there's currently an influential prop

Daniel Greenberg
Nov 16, 2003

Creating a health-research counterpart to DARPA, the Pentagon's legendary Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, makes tremendous sense. DARPA, the freewheeling, cash-laden nest of sci-tech wizards, sired the Internet, stealth technology, the global positioning system, the Predator unmanned aircraft, and many more innovations throughout the Cold War and beyond.

Call the biomedical version BARPA, and let it roll. Great. But if it's going to happen--and there's currently an influential proposal to do just that--do it right. Simply producing another stillborn bureaucracy (read: National Institutes of Health) that is obsessed with fulfilling every nit-picking piece of federal paperwork represents waste at its worst.

Antibureaucratic and nimble, DARPA has long attracted envious glances from scientists and research managers, frustrated by the elephantine workings of the NIH, that colossus of biomedical research. NIH is renowned, rich, and politically coddled as the headquarters of America's war on diseases. With its bountiful billions, it has underwritten...