Lecia Bushak speaks with Jared Adams, chief of engagement and communications for  Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), about why the federal government’s $2.5 billion health research agency came to HLTH, how it picks investments, and its launch of three U.S. hubs.

Note: The MM+M Podcast uses speech-recognition software to generate transcripts, which may contain errors. Please use the transcript as a tool but check the corresponding audio before quoting the podcast.

From HLTH 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s the MM+M podcast.

Hi, I’m Lasha bushak senior reporter at mmm and I’m here at the health 2023 conference in Las Vegas. I’m joined on the podcast by Jared Adams chief of Engagement and Communications at arpa H our pH stands for the advanced research projects Agency for health a brand new arm of the National Institutes of Health that focuses on supporting high impact research for biomedical and health breakthroughs and Jared is here with me today to discuss some of these breakthroughs that are pH is in the process of investing in and the launch of three new hubs in the US will touch on what arpa age is doing well here in Las Vegas at Health. Welcome to the podcast Jared.

Let’s say thanks so much for having me today. I really appreciate it.

So to start tell me about your health experience so far you mentioned it was your first time here. What has it been like being here

health is really an amazing conference. Like I said, it’s my first time here. I came mostly from National Security. I was borrowed actually from DARPA the defense Advanced research projects agency, which is sort of where we take our inspiration from at arpa age. And so the majority of my professional life has been spent in National Security, but particularly over the last five or more years. I’ve been steadfastly focused on public health. You know, when I was working at DARPA DARPA many people don’t know was the original investor in moderna. We made a roughly 30 plus million dollar Awards. I’m a turn in the 2013-2014 time frame that helped give that company a boost in its research on mRNA and over the course of the next 10 plus years. We continue to fund them and their efforts and so I was no stranger to health and help to actually stand up the biological Technologies office at DARPA.

Before before eventually leaving the agency as everybody just like it arpa age is term limited and has to go at some time or another and so I left DARPA for an opportunity to work in the white house for the Biden Administration and I was there for a year helping out our health and Life Sciences office at the time focus on pandemic prevention not about covid particularly, but just any new pandemics and as a as it would happen, I was able to you know, sort of work front and center on monkeypox response in the 22 timeframe and then got the opportunity to help stand up and be the inaugural director of communications at arpa age just this last fall so it’s only been one year that I’ve been on board now

right in our page is relatively new and you mentioned your time at dark and I want to ask you a little bit more about the differences there. But our age was recently given about 2.5 billion dollars in funds to do some of the this supporting of research and break through work and we know that our age is funding a project.

Checked for the development of 3D printing organs. For example, another one that focuses on developing regenerative tissue to restore immune system function, but can you talk a little bit more about what kind of breakthrough other breakthroughs that are pH is seeking to fund and are there any particular areas of focus at the agency is like really honing in on like is cancer or are there any other areas that you want to highlight?

The answer is All Above and let me take a step back at first and say that you’re currently the budget for the agency is 2.5 billion dollars, but that’s spread over a three-year period so NSF NIH Etc are typically working on one year allotments or allocations of dollars. Whereas we had an initial investment when we were launched in March for 22 for one billion dollars. And so that’s spread the next year. We were appropriate at 1.5. So now we have a total of 2.5 that we can we’re you know, we’re mandated to spend over the course of three years and to answer your question what we’re looking.

For specifically are not necessarily solutions for any one disease but looking at ways that we can apply Technologies new capabilities to abroad area of disease classes. So that’s not that’s not to say that or to preclude us necessarily from investigating cancer Alzheimer’s or diabetes or anything else far from it. As a matter of fact, if you look over the funding profile for the last year or so a lot of what we’ve been investing in to date has been cancer related and we’re working very closely for instance with the camp with the with the cancer moonshot initiative with the Biden White House.

And you spent eight years at DARPA and that was obviously well before our pH was launched in 2022 and DARPA was sort of the like I guess what our page was based off of Slash designed after as someone who has spent time at both. Now, what would you say are sort of the main differences like how our pH was designed based off DARPA, but also what some of the differences in the goals of each of the agencies,

I would say that the easy distinction is that the business model with arpa age and DARPA are very similar and that we are a fun we’re principally funding agencies, but we make our funding decisions based on contracts. So we go out and we’ll look across the entire Science and Technology ecosystem and you know ask people to attend to a problem that the program manager has identified as opposed to receiving proposals, you know from academics and funding their research. So the interesting distinction is that if we decide by the end of the first

Laser second phase and typically arpa programs in general are three phases long over the course of three to five years that if Milestones are not being met that we can take the money back. So it’s never typically the case that there’s a hard stop and we just fire somebody from a program but it’s generally that, you know, we come to the end of a phase and decide not to go forward with them and there’s a down select. So that funding model is very similar. But yet I think we’re the two agencies really differ isn’t that DARPA has a built-in customer with the Department of Defense and it’s not to say that a lot of what DARPA does doesn’t find application Beyond either the Department of Defense or the intelligence Community. It’s certainly does. I’m just like mRNA and also the internet is a fantastic example, but you know with arpa age we view our customers as the entire American population. So we have a we feel like we have a tremendous responsibility to speak to all as opposed to where DARPA is, you know largely concerned with def

She is.

And you know our page is Mission and goalsers are a big reason of why you’re here at health. I’m hoping to connect I’m guessing with innovators and health Tech startups and all of these people who are sort of on the front lines of you know, these technological breakthroughs and health. What are some of your main goals the few days that you’re here at this conference? And what do you hoping to kind of get from being here?

Yeah. So arpas are Innovation organizations and health is an innovation conference basically and so we’re looking at this as an opportunity for us, you know to talk to talk to researchers talk to scientists talk to innovators about some of the ideas that they have in healthcare and we’re looking particularly for companies or for people who have ideas that will make outsized impacts in the world. So that aren’t you know, we never really talk about Market size. But you know, we talk about the potential to impact millions of people. So that’s one of the

Whole reasons we’re here. And also here there’s I think you you know, just walking the floor. There’s a tremendous amount of interest from the VC and private Equity community. And so we’re looking at those people as potential partners for us to transition our technology to once, you know, it reaches a sufficient level of of maturity. So typically arpas are funding at you know, the very early stages of the TRL level and you know, so if you already have a formal, you know, a functioning a prototype of something that’s not necessarily what we’re interested in funding. We’re trying to look for a proof of concept and make the not the impossible possible but the impossible plausible and so, you know, if we’re thinking about how something could come to Market eventually, you know, five 10 years from now then certainly, you know, the investor community that is president at health is going to help us make that happen.

And let’s say that you you find a company or an innovator who you know here at Health who says hey, I have this proof of concept idea. I have this idea. How can I get to that next stage with ARP H. Can you walk me through the process of what an entrepreneur, you know the process that the steps that that you would be putting them through to get that project going.

Yeah. So there’s two different ways you could approach it if you’re innovator one is you could express interest to become a program manager at the agency yourself and so to become a program manager, it’s actually relatively easy process you write typically a two to three page abstract and submit that along with your CV and cover letter and you know, we’ll talk. Well that’ll initiate a conversation probably with one of our office directors of which they’re four different program offices right now, but we’re we’re still only have two program office directors growing agency. I’m still new so that’ll engender a conversation then if they think the idea is sufficiently interesting enough, then we’ll be asked to come in and make

Pitch kind of like a shark stink, you know Shark Tank, like pitch to our group of leadership who are all PhD credentialed and steeped in healthcare, but then the other way that you could come in if you don’t want to be a program manager is to look at one of our open Bas. So a baa is a broad agency announcement it essentially essentially is a license to hunt. So as a somebody who’s interested in funding you could apply against that as long as your technology is germane to the problem that the open ba seeks to address or even better if there is a program that we’ve already launched and you’re looking for funding then that’s it. That’s another mechanism that you could come into.

And the other thing that our pH recently announced is the launch of arpa net H, which is a health Innovation Network and it’s going to have three hubs in the US including Dallas, Texas, Boston, Massachusetts and Washington DC. Can you talk a little bit about arpa net age exactly what it is and you know, what’s going to be happening at those three hubs. Sure.

So in the I guess the guiding legislation for the creation of the agency Congress stipulated that we must be operating in three distinct geographies, and we made our mind up fairly quickly and the March, you know, 20 23 time frame that we would have our stakeholder and operations Hub in the Washington DC Metro and truth be told we actually still have it like said where exactly in the Washington DC Metro we’re going to make that make that decision and ultimately how’s ourselves. But right now we’re just using temporary workspace the other two places that have been chosen physically are Dallas and we’re going to be in the Pegasus Park region of Dallas and the unique thing about that.

Relationship with Dallas is that it extends to other cities within within the state? So even though Pegasus Park is the sort of the center of activity that Hub there are tentacles if you will or spokes to elements within Houston, Austin and San Antonio and then the other that’s our customer experience Hub. So they’re you know, we’re trying to be working with health care providers as closely as possible to understand what you know, the patient perspective is like an any number of diseases and the investor Catalyst Hub, which is what we named in Boston actually will be in the Cambridge area just outside of Boston is you know, looking at like I said before working with investors and making sure that if a, you know, if a technology if a pharmaceutical Etc, you know does have the potential to make it to market then they would see that you know, it has, you know, helped them sort of along on the path of that road.

Definitely a lot of exciting stuff happening as you know, this is a new agency that sort of taking off excited to see what happens while you’re here at Health. What would you say are some of the things that you’re looking forward to doing here while you’re here? And then also what are you most looking for to implementing or kind of following up on once you leave

the conversations that we’re having here Health are been really helpful. First of all, we’ve seen a terrific amount of traffic in our booth with people who are interested in being program managers potentially and I should say really quickly sort of a Shameless plug for our program managers, you know by Design arpas are supposed to turn over program managers every few years at ARP age. It’s every three years and you have the potential to stay for as long as six and

Given that in the future, we’ll be turning over, you know program managers every every three years or so. The impetus is on us to make sure that we’re constantly cruising recruiting and talking to people who have good ideas. So those relationships are key and already we’ve talked to several people who are interested in working for us directly, but then the other element is just educating people about what the agency is like and you know, our funding model is unique. Our employee model is very unique or culture is very unique. It’s very much unliking any other place in government. I’ve only I’ve had the privilege of working for two arpas, but never for any other element the government other than the White House and it’s it’s a very unique place. It’s it’s ante bureaucratic. And so yeah, it’s very interesting because things happen very quickly and I think that there’s a high degree of expectation, you know to move and to operate at a pace that the rest of the federal government sometimes doesn’t meet I don’t want to indict the rest of

Federal government and say that they’re slow but it is it is a completely different experience and I think one that people who are attending is of Health would probably better recognize than any other part of the federal government.

Absolutely. And before we let you go beyond the health conference. What’s your favorite part of being in Las Vegas?

Oh my gosh. I haven’t been to Las Vegas for eight years in the last time. I was here. Honestly was for a DARPA event.

Really? Yeah,

we held a we helped what was referred to as the Cyber Grand Challenge which was having autonomous autonomous computers try to find in patch bugs in large sections of code and it was an event that was held over at the Paris hotel with about 5,000 attendees at Defcon and Def con is one of the world’s largest hacking conventions and there was a blast to do that and to be here for that and in the last eight years Las Vegas has grown and measurably there was a time in my life where I probably would have said if I didn’t have to come here.

Again, I’d probably be okay with that, but

that’s what I hear a lot.

But to be honest, I I like it particularly in October. It’s it’s very nice and there’s been so much growth here and you know people have always been very receptive to having, you know, having government here having having industry here as well. So I look just look forward to spending time with with old friends from industry and and visiting more the booths.

Well, thank you so much for joining us Jared.

Thank you very much. I appreciate the time

Jared Adams, chief of Engagement and Communications at arpa H and he came all the way from Washington DC to the health conference 2023. This is Lecia Bushak for the MM&M podcast. Take care.