UK Announces “High-Risk, High-Reward” Research Development Agency
UK Announces “High-Risk, High-Reward” Research Development Agency

UK Announces “High-Risk, High-Reward” Research Development Agency

The program, known as ARIA, will be independent and scientist-led.

Lisa Winter
Feb 23, 2021

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In an effort to reinvigorate the UK’s research and development endeavors, the government announced Friday (February 19) the creation of an independent, scientist-led funder named the Advanced Research & Invention Agency. The goal is to have the organization up and running by next year.

In the same vein as the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the goal of ARIA is to take on “high-risk, high-reward” projects that are largely unencumbered by the bureaucratic interference and finicky grant procedures of traditional research projects, according to the announcement. The statement cited DARPA’s early work on mRNA vaccines and antibody therapy as being vital to the global COVID-19 response.

“ARIA will unleash our most inspirational scientists and inventors, empowering them with the freedom to drive forward their scientific vision and explore game-changing new ideas at a speed like never before,” Science and Innovation Minister Amanda Solloway says in the announcement. “This will help to create new inventions, technologies and industries that will truly cement the UK’s status as a global science superpower.”

The UK has an annual research and development budget of around £14.6 billion. To start, ARIA will receive £800 million total over the next four years. In comparison, the US allocates around $3.5 billion to DARPA each year. This disparity has drawn some skepticism over what can reasonably be expected from ARIA.

“It is totally not clear what ARIA really will do, especially given its modest budget,” Jon Crowcroft, a computer scientist at Cambridge University, tells CNBC.

Now that the agency has been announced, the highest leadership roles need to be filled in the coming weeks so that its first goals can be set. The UK government will be recruiting scientists at the top of their fields and it will be up to these experts—and not politicians—to guide ARIA’s projects forward.

Defining its mission is critical to the success of the agency, according to Anna Goldstein, the executive director of the Energy Transition Initiative at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Unless that is set, “ARIA is a solution in search of a problem,” she tells Science.