White House Taps Ginkgo Bioworks Vet to Helm New Health Research Organization

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President Joe Biden tapped Ginkgo Bioworks veteran Renee Wegrzyn to helm the recently-established Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H). 

As the first director of the newly-established agency, Wegrzyn will be responsible for leading the organization's research team to develop diagnostics and therapeutics for multiple diseases, including cancer. 

The new agency's mission will ensure health equity across racial and socio-economic lines. According to the White House, ARPA-H, first announced in March, will "push the limits of U.S. biomedical and health research and innovation."

The White House announced that ARPA-H will focus on healthcare challenges that range "from the molecular to the societal" levels to tackle multiple diseases, including Alzheimer's, diabetes, and cancer. 

This follows the Biden administration's decision to throw its weight behind the Cancer Moonshot agenda that was first announced during the Obama administration in 2016.

Renee Wegrzyn: Industry Experience and Qualifications

Wegrzyn, who joined Ginkgo in 2020, said she was honored to be tapped for the role and have an opportunity to shape ARPA-H's mission to improve health outcomes for all Americans. 

"Some of the problems we face every day - especially in health and disease - are so large they can seem insurmountable. I have seen firsthand the tremendous expertise and energy the U.S. biomedical and biotechnological enterprise can bring to solve some of the toughest health challenges," Wegrzyn told BioSpace.

"ARPA-H will create the transformative and collaborative space that is required to support the next generation of moonshots for health—not only for complex diseases like cancer, but also systemic barriers like supply chain gaps and equitable access to breakthrough technologies and cures for everyone," she added. 

Prior to her role as vice president for business development at Boston-based Ginkgo Bioworks, Wegrzyn was program manager in the Biological Technologies Office of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. In that role, she harnessed the capabilities of synthetic biology and gene editing to enhance biosecurity and public health capabilities.

Wegrzyn's resume at DARPA includes multiple research programs, including "Living Foundries: 1000 Molecules, Safe Genes, Preemptive Expression of Protective Alleles and Response Elements (PREPARE)," and "Detect it with Gene Editing Technologies (DIGET)" programs, according to the White House. 

At Ginkgo Bioworks, she held the head of innovation at Concentric by Ginkgo, the company's biosecurity and public health initiative. In her company roles, Wegrzyn focused on using synthetic biology to outpace infectious diseases through biomanufacturing, vaccine innovation, and bio-surveillance of pathogens at scale.

Pharma Hubs Vye to House ARPA-H

As ARPA-H gets underway with its new directors, multiple states, including Massachusetts and North Carolina, are vying for the agency to set up shop in their biopharma hubs. Representatives from the states in contention are all jockeying to showcase the strengths of their life sciences ecosystems. 

Axios reported that representatives from the heavyweight hub of Boston are pressing for the opportunity to have ARPA-H in the Bay State. MassBio President Joe Boncore is helming the effort.

"We have obviously located here the talent, academia, teaching hospitals, one of the largest biotech clusters in the world," Boncore told Axios, adding that the state is the obvious choice.

"To be quite honest, they're all competing with Massachusetts. When someone asks where ARPA-H should be located, there's really only one answer, and that's right here in the Commonwealth."

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