ARPA-H at two years: How the agency is launching health moonshots


ARPA-H at two years: How the agency is launching health moonshots  

Renee Wegrzyn 

As ARPA-H celebrates two years as an agency—two years of supporting the development of tomorrow’s breakthroughs to accelerate better health outcomes for all Americans—I am humbled by our accomplishments in such a short period. As President Biden declared in his latest State of the Union address, ARPA-H reminds us “We can do big things, like end cancer as we know it. And we will.” 

While ARPA-H was established to push the boundaries of innovation across the entirety of the health ecosystem, the agency is very proud to have launched four uniquely transformational cancer-related programs and several projects committed to tackling the disease at every angle—from diagnostics to treatments to prevention. It’s important to note that even with a cancer focus, each of these programs and projects broadens out to additional health challenges. The complete list of cancer-related programs and projects includes: 


  • ADAPT: The ADvanced Analysis for Precision cancer Therapy (ADAPT) program aims to harness advanced technologies to build cancer biomarkers, which would allow clinicians to track tumor changes, before, during, and after treatment to enable a more proactive response to cancer care. 
  • Biomedical Data Fabric Toolbox: ARPA-H is partnering with the National Institutes of Health, the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and other agencies to develop a new Biomedical Data Fabric Toolbox. Starting with cancer datasets, this program represents the first step toward transforming data accessibility across all medical domains, promising a future of boundless possibilities in health innovation. 
  • PARADIGM: The Platform Accelerating Rural Access to Distributed and InteGrated Medical Care (PARADIGM) program aims to address the current challenges in rural health by creating a scalable vehicle platform that can provide hospital-level care, such multi-cancer screenings, anywhere. 
  • PSI: Precision Surgical Interventions (PSI) aims to help all surgical procedures, especially tumor removals, reach their intended goal with no errors and no need for re-operation. 


  • CODA: The Cancer and Organ Degradome Atlas (CODA) platform project uses cutting-edge synthetic biology and cell engineering technologies to catalog cellular profiles unique to diseased cancer cells, leveraging them to build bioengineered sensors that can be deployed inside the body to hunt for malignant cells. 
  • CUREIT: Immune dysregulation is an underlying component of not only cancer and autoimmune diseases, but also infectious diseases, transplant rejection, and other common medical conditions. Curing the Uncurable via RNA-Encoded Immunogene Tuning (CUREIT) aims to address immune dysregulation by directly programming immune cell function. 
  • SPIKEs: Cancer immunotherapy is hampered by high costs, long and involved preparation processes, and frequent inefficacy against solid tumors. The Synthetic Programmable bacteria for Immune-directed Killing in tumor Environments (SPIKEs) project aims to develop a new class of living cancer immunotherapy that that can effectively address these limitations. 
  • THOR: The Targeted Hybrid Oncotherapeutic Regulation (THOR) project aims to create a compact device designed to trigger the immune system against tumors. 

Read our press release for more information about ARPA-H’s cancer-related projects. 

SBIR Awards 

  • Advanced Imaging Aided Autonomous Robotic Cholecystectomy. This ARPA-H SBIR Phase II project aims to develop an 'autonomous' minimally invasive surgery approach, enhancing outcomes in procedures like laparoscopic cholecystectomy or extended cholecystectomy for cancer removal through advanced robotic tools and a 'smart' vision framework. 
  • Real-time Functional Fluorescence Nerve Imaging for Surgery. This project plans to synthesize and characterize novel nerve-specific fluorescence-guided surgery (FGS) contrast agents to select a bright, water-soluble lead compound for clinical translation with optimal nerve visualization, functional assessment performance, and clinically relevant pharmacology and toxicology (pharm/tox) profiles for follow-on Investigational New Drug-enabling studies and first-in-human trials. These agents can help enhance visibility during surgery (e.g., cancer removal) so nerves aren’t damaged.  
  • Translation of Novel Biliary Tract-specific Contrast Agent to Mediate Successful Image-guided Hepatobiliary Interventions. The project aims to advance the development of BL-760, a near-infrared contrast agent designed for clear intraoperative identification of bile ducts. This novel dye addresses the significant medical issue of bile duct injury during hepatobiliary surgeries (e.g., cholecystectomy, hepatectomy for cancer removal), impacting over 1 million patients annually. 

View a full list of SBIR awards on our For Small Businesses webpage

In addition to our cancer-related efforts, I am especially motivated by our agency’s commitment to improving women’s health through our ARPA-H Sprint for Women’s Health. ARPA-H has an opportunity to fundamentally change the trajectory of women’s health care and radically accelerate the next generation of discoveries. We are currently seeking submissions to the Sprint for Women’s Health request for solicitations on the following topics: 

  • Women’s Health at Home 
  • Prioritizing Ovarian Health Through Mid-Life to Prevent Disease 
  • Advancing Research Through Enhanced Models for Investigating the Influence of Sex Differences on Health Outcomes 
  • Advancing Women’s Brain Health via Lymphatic Targeting 
  • Objective and Quantitative Measurement of Chronic Pain in Women 
  • Wild Card: Revolutionary Breakthroughs in Women’s Health 

More information about the topics and how to submit can be found on the Sprint for Women’s Health webpage.  

As ARPA-H continues to fund critical research in hopes of solving tough challenges like ending cancer and improving women’s health, I’m often asked, “Why ARPA-H?”  

As a health catalyst that can bring together major players across the health ecosystem, ARPA-H is uniquely positioned to support the development of breakthroughs that cannot be readily accomplished through traditional research and commercial activity. ARPA-H has the capability to pull “big levers” in health innovation to take on ideas that can manifest transformational change. Or, as President Biden said when signing ARPA-H into law two years ago, “ideas so audacious that people say, ‘it just might work, only if we could try.”