Renee Wegrzyn Tapped to Head ARPA-H

As the new agency’s director, the DARPA veteran will spearhead a high-risk, high-reward approach to biomedical research.

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Andy Carstens

Andy Carstens is an intern at The Scientist. He has a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology and a master's in science writing from Johns Hopkins University.

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Sep 12, 2022
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Renee Wegrzyn
Ginkgo Bioworks

President Joe Biden will appoint Renee Wegrzyn as the first director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, a new agency intended to accelerate the pace of biomedical research, according to a statement issued by the White House today (September 12). Wegrzyn, who currently works at the biotechnology company Ginkgo Bioworks, is a biologist who was previously a program manager in the Biological Technologies Office of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and has served on several scientific advisory boards for the National Academies of Science, the statement goes on to say.

“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,” says Wegrzyn in a statement issued by Ginkgo Bioworks.

The new agency will support a broad range of programs aimed at preventing, detecting, and treating a variety of diseases, including cancer, according to the White House’s statement. However, rather than focusing on early research, STAT reports that ARPA-H will investigate higher-level solutions such as commercializing technology. Modeled on DARPA, the new agency is intended to speed the development of treatment and cures for diseases.

Earlier this year, ARPA-H received $1 billion in congressional funding to fulfill these objectives, and US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra decided it would be part of the National Institutes of Health. As director of ARPA-H, Wegrzyn will report directly to Becerra.

Wegrzyn will be leaving her current role as a vice president of business development at Ginkgo Bioworks. According to the White House statement, her career accomplishments include receiving a Superior Public Service Medal for her DARPA work, which addressed biosecurity, gene therapies, and emerging infectious diseases.

“President Biden could not have chosen a better inaugural Director for ARPA-H. With Dr Wegrzyn at the helm, ARPA-H is poised to drive health innovation and launch bold and ambitious research programs,” Becerra says in a statement. “She will lead us in tackling some of the most pressing health challenges of our time.”