ARPA-H offers fast, flexible support to biotech startups, panelists tell BIO 2024

Getting government support for a biotech startup no longer need be a slow and painful process, according to staff and fundees of the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H).

A June 6 panel at the 2024 BIO International Convention in San Diego told an audience of biotech innovators that gaining federal support to bring their ideas to market can be faster and easier than ever before.

Video: Susan Monarez, Ph.D., Deputy Director of ARPA-H, describes ARPA-H and how they’ve pushed out almost $1 billion in funding in just over one year.

What is ARPA-H?

Launched just over two years ago, ARPA-H is small, agile, and flexible enough to accommodate diverse needs, the panelists said. They work with early-stage innovations or help get late-stage ideas to market. And they do it quickly.

“My colleagues here from ARPA-H and I will tell you our agency is unique in our ability to work with public and private entities outside of government. The speed, the efficiency, the effectiveness—I’ve never seen anything like it in my time in government,” said Susan Monarez, Ph.D., Deputy Director of ARPA-H and moderator of the panel.

ARPA-H is different, agreed Jason Roos, Ph.D., ARPA-H Director of Scalable Solutions. “We have the authority and flexibility that enable us to do business, more like a business-to-business type relationship,” he said. The agency does not give grants but instead provides funding through “other transactions” and cooperative agreements, as well as valuable knowledge.

Biotech firms can become involved with ARPA-H by “push or pull,” Roos said. In a push scenario, a biotech firm seeking funds comes to ARPA-H with an idea. In a pull arrangement, ARPA-H makes a call for a specific type of project and innovators can come forward.

ARPA-H has pushed out almost $1 billion in funding across an entire portfolio, including a recent $100 million sprint for women’s health.

How ARPA-H works

“What you need to submit is a solution summary, which is just an abstract. It’s literally three pages. In fact, it’s limited to three pages,” said Wade Shen, ARPA-H Director, Proactive Health. “We ask that you do that briefly so that we get a good sense as to whether or not there’s going to be a there there, and you don’t waste your time. You don’t waste our time.”

If the idea looks like a fit, you will be paired with one of ARPA-H’s project managers, who drive the whole process, Shen said.

“Expect a high touch, highly collaborative process,” with the ARPA-H project manager working for you, solving problems as if they belonged to your company, said Stan Wang, MD, Ph.D., CEO & Founder of Thymmune, a company working on drugs that can “renew everyone’s immune system.”

For Wang’s company, the time from application to “funding decision and money in the bank” was about six months.

Tips for applying

Another happy customer on the panel was Yoseph Kim, CEO of Optosurgical, whose products include a “sci-fi robot” that assists with surgery and a high-contrast agent that can help in visualizing tissues.

He advised that applicants consider attending ARPA-H partnering days, which can enable collaborations that speed work. He also advised checking the ARPA-H website to fully understand how to work with ARPA-H before getting in touch.

“Ground your proposal in tangible outcomes that you can do with the limited amount of time,” said Kim. “I think that plays on their efficiency, their flexibility as well as the tons of support they give, not just monetary but also in commercialization.”

The ARPA-H website provides information on getting started and the range of assistance it offers. According to Shen and Roos, it is also easy to understand. Once applicants have that basic understanding and feel they’re a good fit, starting the conversation is the next step.

“The core thing there is that you should engage with us. You should come talk to us,” said Roos. “Come talk to the program manager.”

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