ARPA-H launches program to retrain immune cells to combat diseases


ARPA-H launches program to retrain immune cells and combat challenging diseases 

Program aims to develop effective, affordable therapies within the body and reduce manufacturing challenges 

The Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), today launched the Engineering of Immune Cells inside the Body (EMBODY) program to revolutionize treatments for life-threatening and chronic conditions. EMBODY’s goal is to retrain healthy immune cells and radically alter how immune therapies are developed and delivered, eliminating time, cost, and access hurdles. 

Existing engineered cell therapies take weeks to manufacture in the lab from patient tissue samples. A primary aim of the EMBODY program is to develop agents that can be delivered in a cell-type specific way to modify immune cells in vivo – in the body – instead of in a vial. EMBODY challenges researchers to seek novel and more affordable ways to alter cells, adjusting them to be more effective at treating autoimmune disorders, fighting different types of cancer, or resolving chronic infections.  

“By developing agents that target specific immune cell types, essentially providing on-the-job instructions to cells already active inside your body, we hope to make advanced immunotherapies available close to home for Americans across the country,” said Program Manager Daria Fedyukina, Ph.D. “The science is primed to provide these advances, and EMBODY will focus on innovations in validation, quality, and delivery that can translate to huge wins for individuals and their caregivers.” 

EMBODY also plans to validate preclinical models that accurately represent the human immune system, bridging the clinical and early product development gap. With more predictive models, researchers will have more confidence in their product before beginning human clinical trials. If successful, the resulting EMBODY platform could make in vivo therapies possible for many diseases.  

“ARPA-H hopes to advance immune therapies from something expensive manufactured in the lab and instead develop simple, affordable therapies that could be given off the shelf as soon as a serious diagnosis is made,” said ARPA-H Director Renee Wegrzyn, Ph.D. “Distinct from a vaccine that delivers an antigen, or a cancer therapy engineered in the lab, EMBODY therapeutics would directly retrain immune cells to do exactly what’s necessary to treat a given disorder.” 

Multiple awards are expected under the EMBODY solicitation, dependent on the quality of proposals received and the availability of funds. To learn more about the program, including information about the Special Notice, Innovative Solutions Opening, Proposers’ Day registration, and how to voice interest in forming an applicant team, visit the EMBODY program page