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HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Democrats Put ‘Down Payment’ on ARPA-H

The NIH will receive less than half of what the Biden administration requested for its new big ticket entity known as ARPA-H, as a House spending panel seeks a heavier medical research boost across the board.

The House Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee approved its 2022 spending plan by a voice vote yesterday. The $253.8 billion spending package—a 28% increase from the current enacted level—includes $49.4 billion for the National Institutes of Health, or a $6.5 billion increase from its current level.

Of that $6.5 billion increase, $3 billion would fund the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, a new special projects agency to be housed within the NIH that aims to speed up game-changing biomedical discoveries. The remaining increase would fund research at the NIH’s 27 institutes and centers. President Joe Biden had asked for $6.5 billion for ARPA-H over three years and a $2.5 billion increase for the rest of the NIH across the board—for a $9 billion increase overall. The House spending panel appears to be providing startup costs to ARPA-H, but it’s pouring more money into the core work of the medical research agency.

“It’s a gorgeous bill,” Ellie Dehoney, vice president of policy and advocacy for Research!America, said in an interview. “My guess is that the president is not going to be fighting hard against the notion of starting with a $3 billion down payment on ARPA-H’s potential.

“But to me, what was very important was that it didn’t feel like they were cannibalizing one another. There was real recognition of the importance of uncovering more knowledge so you can get to a place where ARPA-H can be innovative and push things across the finish line,” Dehoney said. Read more from Jeannie Baumann.

Still, Republicans said they oppose the Labor-HHS spending bill over the price tag and the removal of the Hyde amendment, which bans federal funds for most abortion services.

“In my opinion a deal would mean the defense number would need to go higher, the domestic number would need to go lower, and obviously Hyde needs to come back in,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the subcommittee’s ranking Republican, Andrew Kreighbaum reports.

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