Wegrzyn Named First ARPA-H Director
President Joe Biden intends to appoint Dr. Renee Wegrzyn as the first director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), the agency newly established to drive biomedical innovation that supports the health of all Americans.
In announcing his selection on Sept. 12—the 60th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s Moonshot speech—Biden talked about his vision for another American Moonshot: ending cancer as we know it. ARPA-H figures prominently among other initiatives to reach that goal.
Describing Wegrzyn as a leading biomedical scientist and an entrepreneur in synthetic biology with a decade of experience leading multiple biotech projects at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Biden said, “It’s about how to use all the assets we have—all of them. She’s going to bring the legendary DARPA attitude and culture and boldness and risk-taking to ARPA-H to fill a critical need. Discoveries that save lives, change lives, often start at the lab bench. But then those basic research breakthroughs need to be tested, scaled and brought to the clinic. This may require unusual partnerships that may require support to get over many obstacles that exist. That’s what ARPA-H is designed to do, so the advances can reach all Americans sooner. I predict ARPA-H will emerge as a new and exciting member of America’s biomedical ecosystem.”
Wegrzyn has professional experience working for two of the institutions that inspired the creation of ARPA-H—DARPA and Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA). She will be responsible for driving the new agency’s nascent research portfolio and associated budget. The budget is expected to support a broad range of programs to take on challenging health problems in pursuit of high-reward solutions to help everyone.
“President Biden could not have chosen a better inaugural director for ARPA-H,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “With Dr. Wegrzyn at the helm, ARPA-H is poised to drive health innovation and launch bold and ambitious research programs. She will lead us in tackling some of the most pressing health challenges of our time.”
ARPA-H was created earlier this year to push the limits of U.S. biomedical and health research and innovation. Public Law 117-103, which was enacted on Mar. 15, authorized establishment of ARPA-H within HHS. Becerra transferred ARPA-H to NIH on Apr. 14.
On May 25, he formally established ARPA-H as an independent entity within NIH to ensure its ability to operate autonomously and partner across HHS and the wider U.S. government to identify projects that will be transformative and far reaching.
Previously, Wegrzyn served as a vice president of business development at Ginkgo Bioworks and head of Innovation at Concentric by Ginkgo, where she focused on applying synthetic biology to outpace infectious diseases—including Covid-19—through biomanufacturing, vaccine innovation and biosurveillance of pathogens at scale.
Prior to Ginkgo, Wegrzyn was program manager in the Biological Technologies Office at DARPA, where she leveraged the tools of synthetic biology and gene editing to enhance biosecurity, promote public health and support the domestic bioeconomy. Her DARPA portfolio included the Living Foundries: 1000 Molecules, Safe Genes, Preemptive Expression of Protective Alleles and Response Elements and the Detect it with Gene Editing Technologies programs.
Wegrzyn received the Superior Public Service Medal for her work and contributions at DARPA. Prior to joining DARPA, she led technical teams in private industry in the areas of biosecurity, gene therapies, emerging infectious disease, neuromodulation, synthetic biology, as well as research and development teams commercializing multiplex immunoassays and peptide-based disease diagnostics.
Wegrzyn holds doctorate and bachelor’s degrees in applied biology from the Georgia Institute of Technology. She was a fellow in the Center for Health Security Emerging Leaders in Biosecurity Initiative and completed postdoctoral training as an Alexander von Humboldt fellow in Heidelberg, Germany.