President Joe Biden, who lost his son Beau to cancer, has been doing a great deal to fight that disease, going back to his time as vice president. In 2017, Biden announced a “cancer moonshot” alongside the University of Pennsylvania to raise billion in an attempt to cure cancer.
These efforts have continued during Biden’s presidency, and on Monday he announced that Dr. Renee Wegrzyn had been named Inaugural Director of Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H).
That agency is described by the White House as “a new agency established to drive biomedical innovation that supports the health of all Americans.” Wegrzyn was introduced at an event at Boston’s John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, on the sixteith anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s speech announcing plans to go to the moon.
The doctor was previously the vice president of business development at Ginkgo Bioworks and Head of Innovation at Concentric by Ginkgo and had previously worked for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA).
“Imagine the possibilities — vaccines that could prevent cancer, like there is for HPV,” Biden said at the introduction, as reported by the New York Times. “Imagine molecular ZIP codes that could deliver drugs and gene therapy precisely, to the right tissues. Imagine simple blood tests during an annual physical that could detect cancer early.”
Biden continued to lay out his vision.
“Imagine getting a simple shot instead of a grueling chemo or getting a pill from a local pharmacy instead of invasive treatments and long hospital stays. Imagine treatments beyond cancer. Bold approaches to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity, something Vice President [Kamala} Harris is laser — laser-focused on. And imagine artificial retinas that could help blind people see.”
“Some of the problems we face every day — especially in health and disease — are so large they can seem insurmountable,” Wegrzyn said in a statement to the press. “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.”
Eric Lander, the White House science adviser who had first overseen the Cancer Moonshot, stepped down earlier this year when he was accused of “bullying” employees.
“The leading biomedical scientist, a decade of experience leading multiple biotech projects at DARPA. And, by the way, it’s about how to use all the assets we have — all of them,” Biden said of Wegryzn. “An entrepreneur in synthetic biology. She’s — you’re 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, and often start — they often start in the lab bench.”
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.