The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a research and development body under the U.S. Department of Defense, manages and oversees various R&D projects for U.S. national defense. The DARPA developed the world’s first Internet when the institution studied military networks in the 1960s. The agency is benchmarked by many countries worldwide for its capability to achieve groundbreaking military breakthroughs for high-cost and risky projects. The U.S. government applied the DARPA model in founding ARPA-H (Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health).

The Korean government is also promoting the creation of Korean-type ARPA-H by benchmarking the DARPA model and applying advanced biotechnology in public health. Among diverse international bodies benchmarking the DARPA, Wellcome Leap, which supports research and development in public health, sets a good example. The organization is a non-profit body founded by the British charity group Wellcome Trust to address international health care issues.

“Vaccine development during the pandemic is a striking example that shows how a single innovation can create changes. It is only natural that governments are trying to find solutions by adopting innovative research models such as the DARPA,” said CEO Regina Dugan (photo) of the Wellcome Fund. Dugan had worked as the 19th head of DARPA previously.

Wellcome Fund promotes and supports research projects that address challenges in public health. “While working at DARPA, I learned a life lesson that any challenge that is addressable and critical to humankind needs a chance,” said Dugan. “We stress the ‘if’ in challenges and work hard to create outcomes that can bring changes to public health.”

The Wellcome Fund comprises project teams of experts from multidisciplinary fields with a three-year project period benchmarked by the DARPA. It connects more than 750,000 researchers and technicians across the world. “DARPA was designed to serve strategic benefits of a specific country, but we are founded to connect gatherings of activities across the world to tackle global issues,” explained Dugan. Then what would be critical to achieving goals for the Korean ARPA-H model successfully?

Dugan emphasized that the new organization would need a new innovative approach to funding and support framework. “Resources alone would not be enough. The organization should be designed to boost the chance of innovation, not to secure supportive results,” she said. “Also, global challenges such as disease and climate change are threatening humankind across different countries and disciplinary fields. Efforts to tackle these challenges should also transcend borders and academic disciplines.”

Go-Ya Choi

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Organizations transcending borders and academic discipline is key to public health innovation : The DONG-A ILBO

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