Feds choose Greater Boston as research hub

State House News Service
Published: 9/27/2023 4:51:48 PM
Modified: 9/27/2023 4:50:59 PM

BOSTON — The Biden administration “planted its flag here in Massachusetts,” Gov. Maura Healey said this week, by agreeing after a competitive process to create a biomedical and health hub in Greater Boston through the federal Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, or ARPA-H.

Massachusetts was chosen to host the National Institutes of Health agency’s Investor Catalyst Hub, meant to help ARPA-H programs “navigate the complexities of the business and regulatory landscape and provide resources to help bring ideas to market,” according to the governor’s office.

Healey said the hub will be a place where private industry and the state and federal government work together on innovations in health care and life sciences.

Greater Boston was one of the three regions chosen to lead specific focus areas. Dallas, Texas will develop a customer experience hub focused on diversifying clinical trials, reaching representative patient populations and more equitable health outcomes, according to ARPA-H. A hub for “stakeholder and operations” will be located near Washington, D.C.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra called ARPANET-H “a testament to our commitment to inclusivity and innovation in health care” and said “this dynamic nationwide network embodies our unwavering mission to propel forward health outcomes in every corner of the country — and beyond.”

The local hub will be located in Cambridge with “spokes” throughout the region, Healey said Tuesday during an appearance on GBH’s “Boston Public Radio.”

“What is it? It’s a program that the Biden administration set up, kind of like [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency], and it is an Advanced Research Projects Agency,” the governor said on the radio. “And they had to go around the whole country and pick areas that were going to be hubs for substantial funding. And Massachusetts — we just won it. I’m really proud of that.”

UMass President Marty Meehan applauded Congressman Richard Neal and everyone behind the effort for “making the case that Massachusetts should be a national focal point for accelerated life science research and innovation.”

State Economic Development Secretary Yvonne Hao called it an “unprecedented opportunity to spark revolutionary progress in health care and continue to lead in the life sciences industry.” And Brian Johnson, president of the Massachusetts Medical Device Industry Council, said the announcement “cements the Commonwealth’s standing as the global epicenter for health innovation.”

ARPA-H program managers will be at the heart of the model being used and will serve as “technology scouts” as the research effort tries to zero in worthwhile investments of federal funding and expertise. “They’re ARPA’s eyes and ears,” Johnson said.

The area’s selection also represents a payoff on state investments made over the last 15 years in the life sciences sector, Johnson said. Greater Boston won the competition “head and shoulders” above other regions, he said, adding, “We beat Silicon Valley for the right to host this.”

The state Executive Office of Economic Development partnered with the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, Hadley-based nonprofit VentureWell and a group of hospitals, health centers, and research and academic institutions to submit a proposal to the federal government in the spring.

A Mass General Brigham spokesman said the health care system was a “major driver” of the Massachusetts proposal, bringing in players like Battelle and MITRE into the effort and providing space at One Main Street in Cambridge’s Kendall Square as the shared site for the development of the proposal.

“In order to advance the next generation of groundbreaking healthcare solutions, we must come together to scale the development of life-changing cures and therapies to bring the most innovative ideas to the bedside as rapidly as possible. There’s no better place to make this happen than Massachusetts,” said Anne Klibanski, president and CEO, Mass General Brigham.

VentureWell will design and manage the hub and its “spoke network,” and the administration is inviting institutions across the country with focuses in health science futures, proactive health, scalable solutions and resilient systems to apply to become a spoke organization.

“It means a lot for our area. It means a lot because not only are we going to power innovative and transformative solutions to health care problems here in Massachusetts, but nationally and worldwide,” the governor said.

Healey has prioritized efforts to ensure Massachusetts gets a share of the large amount of federal funding available right now in the wake of the pandemic. She hired a director of federal funds and infrastructure, charged with “working across all secretariats to drive the administration’s competitive efforts around federal funding for key infrastructure, climate and economic development projects.”

“Massachusetts has a unique opportunity to aggressively compete for billions of federal dollars to support crucial infrastructure, climate and economic development projects in our state – from the Inflation Reduction Act to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to the CHIPS and Science Act and beyond,” Healey said when she hired Quentin Palfrey for the federal funds post in March.

While it has struggled to obtain funding to replace the dated bridges to Cape Cod, the administration so far has applied for more than $2 billion in federal funding to go towards everything from workforce development to climate resilience, according to Healey’s office.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Defense chose Massachusetts to lead a regional microelectronics hub, and awarded $19.7 million to go towards growing the burgeoning industry. The state also received $108 million from the federal Department of Transportation toward an eventual East-West passenger train to run from Boston through Worcester and into western Massachusetts.

“I just want you to know, when I went out and said to the people, we need a federal funds office, we’re going to be serious about competing for federal dollars, that’s an example of what we made happen,” Healey said Tuesday. “They are important and they are, once again, about making Massachusetts more competitive, more affordable and more equitable.”


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