ARPA-H launches program for real-time drug delivery and disease tracking


ARPA-H launches program for real-time drug delivery and disease tracking to improve patient self-care

ARPA-H launches program building on Biden-Harris Administration’s work to empower patients to more effectively manage their health, reducing the need for invasive and expensive long-term treatments

Today, the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), launched a program to develop new technologies that will automatically deliver treatments and monitor for disease from within an individual’s body. These technologies will result in improved patient self-care and affordability of long-term treatments.

Called Resilient Extended Automatic Cell Therapies (REACT), the program will ease the financial and care management burdens many individuals face in treating or monitoring their chronic condition, such as blood draws, injections, pills, or even surgeries, by developing two platforms: A “Living Pharmacy” to automatically deliver prescribed treatments, and a “Living Sentinel” that allows the individual or their care team to detect key biomarkers of disease.

“For many people living with acute and lifelong diseases, complex care navigation demands, including consistently taking the right dose at the right time, can dramatically undermine their health," said ARPA-H REACT Program Manager Paul Sheehan, Ph. D. “REACT will create new devices to improve a person’s ability to get the medicine when and where they need it and to better monitor their condition, providing them with more control and freedom in their daily lives and improving their well-being.”

For individuals living with chronic conditions that require invasive treatments or continuous monitoring, like diabetes, thyroid disease, or obesity, taking medicine and getting treatments on time can be difficult. Populations with health-related social risk factors, such as those living far away from a medical center, are particularly impacted by these barriers. These treatments can also be expensive long-term, sometimes requiring regular injections or multiple surgeries. REACT will build on advances in automated treatment delivery and monitoring to make treatments more readily available, effective, and lower a patient’s long-term disease management costs.

In the first track of the REACT program, ARPA-H is seeking solutions that leverage recent advances in synthetic biology, materials, and bioelectronics to form what the team calls an implantable Living Pharmacy. The Living Pharmacy would, if successful, consist of a bioelectronic carrier that maintains cells engineered to create and provide a hormone, cytokine, or other therapeutic molecules—such as those to treat cancer, diabetes, and obesity—in vivo (in the body). The carrier would be controlled externally by the individual, who will “subscribe” to a treatment regimen as prescribed by their doctor.

In the second track of the REACT program, successful proposers will work to create a complementary implantable device known as a Living Sentinel. The Living Sentinel would, if successful, consist of a similar carrier-and-cell combination to the Living Pharmacy but would use the cells to detect a key biomarker of disease, which could be tracked through a secure connection between the sentinel and a secure, handheld device, such as a smartphone. Through the Living Sentinel, patients or their care teams could better monitor a disease, allowing them to re-calibrate treatments as needed.

“With REACT, we hope to develop tools to make it easy for all patients to stick to a medical regimen by taking the guesswork and constant management out of the equation,” said ARPA-H Director Dr. Renee Wegrzyn. “REACT aims to ensure the treatments available to patients are as effective as possible so they can lead their healthiest lives. The program will need a diverse team of experts to build on recent advances in synthetic biology, materials development, and bioelectronics to make REACT’s goals a reality.”

The REACT program will require performers to advance multiple technical areas, including:

  • Supporting viability of the engineered cells for a year inside the device once implanted.
  • Developing a manufacturing process for the routine engineering of cells to form a standardized cell line that can either deliver therapies or detect biomarkers.
  • Building an implantable bioelectronic device that houses the living cells with the ability to provide secure communications between the patient and carrier, and between the carrier and the engineered cells. Components must be integrated such that recharging is required only once a week.
  • Establishing reliable and accurate release of the therapy or accurate tracking of a biomarker for at least one year after implantation.
  • Ensuring that the capabilities developed are done so with the safety and security of patients top of mind.

Through a forthcoming Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) for the REACT program, ARPA-H will solicit proposals to overcome these challenges through one of the two program tracks: 1) to create a Living Pharmacy or 2) to create a Living Sentinel. Proposers must identify a single program track to pursue. Multiple awards under this BAA are anticipated, and resources available will depend on the quality of the proposals received and the availability of funds. A Proposers Day for interested research teams is scheduled for November 16, 2023, in Denver, Colorado.

Learn more about REACT on its program page, including information about the REACT Special Notice and Proposer’s Day registration.