ASPR and DARPA Forge New Partnership to Deliver Novel and Robust Health Security Capabilities

By Robert P. Kadlec and Stephen H. Walker

(Released 1 October 2018) 

On September 18, marking seventeen years since the first anthrax attack in the United States, the President unveiled a National Biodefense Strategy and signed a National Security Presidential Memorandum which directed federal agencies to collaborate on biodefense, including budgets, to make the nation safer.

That spirit of interagency collaboration is reflected in a new partnership forged between ASPR and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – DARPA – to strengthen the capabilities needed to protect the nation from 21st century health security threats.

The partnership agreement, signed just days before the National Biodefense Strategy was released, will focus on research, development, and deployment of medical countermeasures and advanced technologies that advance U.S. readiness to respond to health security threats. Through the new partnership, ASPR and DARPA will share data and collaborate to maximize both agencies’ impacts and investments. 

In the past 12 years, ASPR’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) has worked across HHS and the federal government and with over 200 private industry partners to develop medical countermeasures for public health emergencies. So far, BARDA-sponsored medical products and technologies have earned 42 FDA approvals, licenses, or clearances that help meet ASPR’s mission to save lives and protect Americans from 21st century health security threats. 

DARPA has a 60-year history of making pivotal early investments in breakthrough technologies for national security. Its Biological Technologies Office supports universities, government labs, and commercial industry to develop breakthrough capabilities to protect U.S. forces and the homeland from natural and engineered threats, including novel forms of bioterrorism. 

ASPR and DARPA will focus on two initial areas of collaboration. The first targets bacterial pathogens to combat microbial threats. BARDA and DARPA will conduct preclinical and clinical studies of a new type of therapeutic for antibiotic resistant bacteria based upon mRNA encoded antibodies.  The goal: a commercial product that mitigates the effects of multidrug-resistant infections. 

The second area of collaboration focuses on discovering molecular biomarkers - molecules found in blood, other body fluids, or tissues that are signs of a condition or disease – to define a person’s exposure to a virus before the person shows symptoms of infection.  

As part of uncovering biomarkers that predict infection before a patient becomes symptomatic, DARPA and BARDA, through its new Division of Research, Innovation, and Ventures (DRIVe), will validate anticipated biomarkers and develop tests that can pinpoint infected patients quickly enough to minimize the spread of disease and help contain an outbreak. This research is fundamental to developing at-home tests for infections and to developing non-invasive or minimally invasive approaches for early disease detection.

And this is just the start. ASPR and DARPA will build off early successes to identify other promising transformational technologies that can be leveraged to enhance health security for civilian and military populations alike.  For more information on supporting breakthrough initiatives with BARDA and DRIVe, please navigate to medicalcountermeasures.gov and drive.hhs.gov. For opportunities with DARPA, please visit DARPA: Opportunities.  

Released by U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. Click here for source.