The medical science publication Stat just published an article about Congressional interest in the location of ARPA-H headquarters, the new $6 billion effort to fund high, risk-high reward health research and cures. We are about to witness a biotech version of the Amazon HQ2 competition, with states and jurisdictions across the country angling to land this headquarters facility.
It is great to see the national interest in housing ARPA-Headquarters, but this project should not distract jurisdictions from planning for the far more important and
numerous other opportunities emerging as Congress and the White House put the finishing touches on current and new programs and projects to fund applied science and health research programs. Both the science community and commercial real estate (CRE) industry should take notice.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), on which ARPA-H is based, is in Northern Virginia. However, DARPA manages research projects around the country,
not internal research projects at its headquarters. The same is true for the National Science Foundation and its new Technology Innovation and Partnerships (TIP) Directorate. NSF doesn’t have internal research funding in its headquarters—it funds research at universities, industry, and other partners across the country in all 50 states. Does anyone know where the headquarters for the Advanced Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) is? Answer: it is in the Department of Energy’s headquarters in downtown, Washington, D.C. Even the US Department of Agriculture has a new Agriculture Advanced Research Development Authority (AGARDA) embedded in USDA existing facilities.
These ARPA-like entities are critical actors in the federal research ecosystem but are designed to have little or no research going on in their headquarter facilities. If ARPA-H follows the model of other ARPA-federal applied research entities, it will mostly house research managers funding external research across the U.S., not doing medical research at its headquarters facility. By contrast, the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda Maryland is the world’s largest bio medical institution with nearly 6,000 scientists working in its campus, including Nobel Prize winners. But even here more than 80% of the NIH research budget goes to external partners, principally researchers at universities and hospitals.
In that case, what should jurisdictions be doing to take advantage of new federal bio and other research funding opportunities, like ARPA-H? Here are five suggestions:
1) Look to the US Department of Commerce Economic Development Agency (EDA). The Department of Commerce is pegged to receive between 7 and 10 billion dollars of new authorization to fund regional technology hubs across the U.S. in both the US COMPETES Act and Innovation and Competition Act now being conferenced by Congress. The exact number of new tech hubs and method used to apply for these funds is yet to be determined but the current $1 billion Build Back Better competition gives some clues. In 2021, 526 jurisdictions submitted applications to receive funding for regional tech hubs. The two-phase competition will conclude this September when awards are announced to 20-30 regional coalitions of between $25 to $100 million to implement projects in a variety of technical areas, including bio and bio manufacturing. Critically, unlike many federal funding opportunities that do not allow for construction of new facilities, the EDA regional grants specifically may be used to fund new incubators, accelerators, wet lab space and science and research parks.
The EDA application process is highly technical and is premised on alignment with the Regional Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) that local jurisdictions have adopted. Most universities haven’t competed for EDA funding in the past and may not be mentioned in local CEDS documents, but with likely opportunity for more regional tech hubs competitions, universities and hospitals should make sure their research profiles are consistent with locally adopted CEDS plan. Also, in most cases cost share is required so make sure your jurisdiction has access to funding to match the federal contribution, typically at 20% of the federal share. University sponsored programs offices that are familiar with NSF and NIH funding will need to educate themselves on the nuances of submitting EDA grant applications. See below for the Phase 1 winners of the $1B Build Back Better regional technology hub competition
Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing are shown in purple on the map, above
2) Watch for new technology hub competitions from the NSF Technology Innovation and Partnership (TIP) Directorate, mentioned above, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, US Small Business Development Authority, USDA and others that will be developed as part of new federal budget that was just passed and out of the COMPETES/USICA conference committee, expected later in 2022.
3) Address shortage of wet lab space: There is a national shortage of wet lab space for bio research. Make sure your local jurisdiction has a flexible zoning code to allow repurposing and work to support new wet lab construction by the private sector. Unless new lab space is developed, the influx of new bio–R and D funding from NIH, ARPA H, and others will not have places to take place, even if we have researchers ready to perform the work. Congress should look at how it can help support construction of new research facilities, including wet labs beyond the EDA Build Back Better program mentioned above.
4) Manufacturing is being supported by new funding by Congress. Make certain your research cluster is linked through your state’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) or other partners to help align your regional research cluster with manufacturing.
5) Support efforts to give new tools to all federal agencies to partner with local industry, universities, and others. Rich Bendis, President and CEO of Bio Health Innovation and I authored a paper on giving federal labs more authority to engage with local technology community through the FASTER (Federal Authority to Support Technology, Entrepreneurship and Research) Federal Labs Act. https://www.dayoneproject.org/post/the-faster-act-for-the-federal-laboratory-system Congress is taking steps in this direction, such as giving US Department of Energy labs authority to allow federal researchers secondary employment in startup firms or entrepreneurial leave to support more spin out companies. These entrepreneur-friendly tools are widely used by public universities to stimulate regional economic development around their campuses utilizing talent, technology, and place.
But partnering authority should be extended to more federal labs. For example, using land to create public private partnerships through Enhanced Use Lease (EUL) Authority is generally limited to Department of Defense, Department of Energy, and some NASA operations. This leaves out many federal agencies, such as those in my home state of Maryland. This means a new NIH industry university partnering facility next to NIH library in Bethesda, a new agriculture bio facility on USDA land at Beltsville National Agriculture Campus or quantum computing public/private research facility on unused federal land next to NIST, couldn’t be imagined without these agencies having EUL authority. Existing federal research parks and innovation districts such as those at Sandia National Labs in New Mexico or NASA Ames Research Center in California demonstrate the opportunities to build thriving public private partnerships centered around federal labs if this authority is extended government wide.
ARPA-H will be an important vehicle to create new health cures and bio ecosystems. Hopefully, the question of its headquarters location will not distract from the important work it and other federal research partners will undertake as Congress and White House pivot to providing more applied research tools to improve our country’s economic and scientific competitiveness. Let us keep the focus on expanding the research ecosystem across the country.
Brian Darmody is Chief Strategy Officer for AURP, a nonprofit representing communities of innovation in the U.S. www.aurp.net and formerly was AVP for Research and Economic Development at U of Maryland, College Park. AURP holds its Bio Health Caucus June 12-13 in San Diego to discuss wet lab construction, support for bio entrepreneurs and other topics before BIO opens its conference