President Biden’s plans to establish HARPA


U.S. President Joe Biden is considering plans to create an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (HARPA). This entity would support the funding of breakthrough innovations that solve medical problems, but which are not economically feasible for big health and pharmaceutical companies.

Such a government body could drastically change the healthcare sector through funding academics and private companies to develop innovative health products and services. Its goal would be to advance innovation into real-world products for healthcare, accordingly solving persistent problems such as high medicine prices, lack of treatments for rare diseases, poor care systems, and pandemic preparedness. Correspondingly, it would seek to reduce costs of products through for instance inventing more efficient supply chains or developing more effective treatments.


The initiative is a part of President Biden’s first-100-days effort, implying that it is of high relevance to his administration. In its development process, HARPA would mimic the creation of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a body of which the main mission is to make crucial investments in breakthrough technologies for national security. As a result, DARPA has had a major role in the creation of the internet. Biden has suggested a budget of $300 billion on research and development for the upcoming four years, particularly meant for the areas of health, medicine, and biotechnology. As such, part of this budget would be meant for the creation of HARPA.


The need and potential of HARPA are underlined by the fact that currently, many American citizens require health products that do not exist yet, especially in the case of rare disease patients. The main reason for this lack is that it is too costly for private companies to invest in making therapeutics that will only treat a small portion of the population.


Currently, the Biden administration is seeking support for this idea. Namely, in order to create HARPA, an act of Congress will be needed, given that ultimately the Congress will have to authorise HARPA and its corresponding budget. It appears likely that the Congress will do so however, as the initiative has already received much support so far.


Prior to leaving office last year, President Trump already declared support for such an initiative. Moreover, there is currently all the more reason to start funding this research as soon as possible, considering it could help preparations for future pandemics. For instance, a HARPA could accelerate the development of vaccines for coronaviruses that are already endemic but that are not receiving attention from the pharmaceutical industry since they are not deadly.



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