Baltimore makes pitch for new $1 billion federal medical research accelerator

The city of Baltimore is officially throwing its hat in the ring for a new $1 billion federal agency being established to accelerate the pursuit of a cure for cancer and other ambitious medical research projects.

It’s called the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, or ARPA-H, and it’s expected to tackle projects that are seen as too costly, risky or time-intensive for the private sector and traditional public research.


This new program will be under the Bethesda-based National Institutes of Health, but federal lawmakers have been pushing to locate it elsewhere away from Washington, D.C., and its suburbs, saying that it needs to be nimble and independent to be successful.

That has set off a nationwide competition among cities and states.


Leaders in the medical research field and government told The Baltimore Sun in June that discussions to bring ARPA-H to Maryland were underway, but Thursday’s announcement by the city of Baltimore appears to be the first public effort toward landing what could be a boon to the area’s biomedical research industry.

“Baltimore has many wonderful assets that would prove invaluable to and supportive of ARPA-H, including world-class educational and healthcare facilities, excellent medical research institutions, and a diverse and talented workforce,” Mayor Brandon Scott said in a press release. “In addition, the city’s life sciences, technology and entrepreneurial ecosystem make Baltimore an ideal location for ARPA-H. Attracting this institution will continue our city’s renaissance by bringing jobs, investment, and innovation to Baltimore.”

According to the release, the Baltimore Development Corp. will lead this effort and seek input from several organizations including the Greater Baltimore Committee, UpSurge Baltimore, the Abell Foundation, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland, Baltimore and Morgan State University.

ARPA-H will be modeled on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, the research wing of the U.S. Department of Defense that was involved in the development of the internet and GPS technology. It will have looser guidelines on ordering and canceling contracts than other government agencies.

The Department of Health and Human Services oversees NIH and a spokesman for the agency said in June that the decision on where to locate APRA-H will be made jointly by Health Secretary Xavier Becerra and the yet-unnamed director of ARPA-H.