In a bid to merge “national security” with “health security,” the initiative is being funded through the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, or ARPA-H, created last year to accelerate “high-risk, high-reward” biomedical research and modeled after the U.S. military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.
The Biden administration on Wednesday announced it will bankroll a $24 million project to develop mRNA platforms that “train the immune system” to fight cancer and other diseases.
It is the first research funding awarded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, or ARPA-H, which the administration created last year to accelerate “high-risk, high-reward” biomedical research, modeled after the U.S. military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.
A team at Emory University in Georgia will lead a three-year project to create “a toolbox of mRNA and related technologies that could be used to ‘turn on’ helpful immune responses like prompting immune cells to target and attack tumors,” the administration said in its press release.
The White House also touted the project — dubbed CUREIT (“Curing the Uncurable via RNA-Encoded Immunogene Tuning”) — as having wide potential to treat autoimmune disorders and infectious diseases and to aid in transplants.
CUREIT’s launch is part of Biden’s “cancer moonshot,” a plan that seeks to cut cancer deaths in half by 2047 by funding “breakthrough” biotech innovations — not, critics note, by addressing cancer’s many environmental causes.
In his announcement Wednesday, Biden hailed the “success” of the mRNA technology in the COVID-19 vaccines, which he claimed had “saved millions of lives around the world.” He predicted the technology would “transform the fight against cancer and other difficult diagnoses.”
Biden also underscored the role of DARPA in creating the technologies. “These therapies, which were kickstarted by American scientists at DARPA, represent the power of American ingenuity and innovation,” he said.
Wednesday’s announcement comes on the heels of ARPA-H’s launch last month of its other cancer-focused initiative, the Precision Surgical Interventions program.
No awards have yet been made under that project, but ARPA-H is hosting an event in Chicago in September for interested researchers in order to quickly identify and approve projects.