North Carolina has entered the bidding war to host the headquarters of a new federal science agency that will fund biomedical research.
The multibillion-dollar agency, called the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, or ARPA-H, aims to find treatments for a range of diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s by investing in “transformative high-risk, high-reward” research.
The question is where the agency — which is sure to boost the reputation of whatever city it lands in — will be based. The Senate bill establishing it suggests that it will not be based in Washington, D.C.
ARPA-H is still a very amorphous agency. Little is known about how it will operate, who will run it and how much money it will have. Still, North Carolina is eager to claim it as its own.
Major science and health stakeholders, including Duke University, North Carolina Biotechnology Center and Atrium Health, came together in the spring to form a coalition that would spearhead the effort to bring the headquarters to NC.
Housing a well-funded research agency could aid in North Carolina’s fight to attract companies away from other biotechnology hotspots like Boston and San Diego, said Laura Gunter, the president of NCBIO, the trade association for North Carolina’s life sciences industry.
Though the agency is not likely to create a significant number of new jobs on its own — agency headquarters are often grant managers, not researchers — Gunter said the ecosystem that grows out of the agency could be hugely beneficial to the state.
Furthermore, proximity to the headquarters could give NC-based companies a leg up in forming relationships with the agency, said Mary Beth Thomas, the senior vice president of the NC Biotechnology Center.
If North Carolina did win the bid, it’s still not clear where in the state the headquarters would be built. Gunter said it depends on exactly what features the agency prioritizes.
North Carolina’s congressional delegation sent a letter Thursday to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, arguing that the state is uniquely qualified because of its numerous universities, health care systems and growing workforce.
However, several other cities and states are also aggressively courting DHHS, including Philadelphia, Boston, Cleveland, Georgia and Texas, all of which pose staunch competition to North Carolina.
Teddy Rosenbluth covers science for The News & Observer in a position funded by Duke Health and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. The N&O maintains full editorial control of the work.
This story was originally published July 15, 2022 1:25 PM.
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