ARPA-H: Aiming for Breakthroughs in Obesity Science

“Focusing on cancer, focusing on obesity, focusing on diabetes, a whole range of diseases … we’re going to make significant breakthroughs.”

ARPA-H Biden Video StillThis in a nutshell is the aspiration for ARPA-H, as voiced by President Joe Biden. It is a new agency with a billion dollars of funding for the next three years, passed in a bipartisan spending bill barely more than a week ago. The concept for this new approach to breakthroughs in biomedical research – including obesity – arose from the work Biden did as Vice-President to conceive a moonshot for speeding progress in overcoming cancer.

In Biden’s words, a small thing feels like a big victory. He said it, he sees it. Obesity is a disease – part of a whole range of diseases – that needs focus. Former OAC chair Michelle Vicari spotted it and put a spotlight on it. “YES!! I feel seen,” she told us. “Hallelujah!” tweeted Neil Floch.

Breaking Out from Petrified Obesity Dogma

The dream that fuels ARPA-H is to foster high-risk, cutting-edge biomedical research that would never happen otherwise. NIH is too risk averse to deliver more than incremental progress – necessary but not sufficient for the wicked challenge of overcoming obesity. Industry is really good at translating science into new therapies, but that endeavor is risky enough. So chasing breakthroughs in a field like obesity can layer on too much risk.

For too long, scientific advances have taken a back seat in efforts to overcome obesity. Of course, we need to understand and address social, economic, and cultural factors that are fuelling obesity. But the fact remains that obesity is here, now, and it’s a biomedical problem that wreaks havoc on a person’s health over a lifetime. Much effort goes into preaching to people about eating less and moving more. Punishing “big food” for giving us obesity is also popular. But it doesn’t solve the problem of adipose tissue that isn’t working right to regulate our metabolic health.

If ARPA-H can help us break out from the bondage of old, hateful ways of dealing with obesity, bring it on!

Click here and here for more on ARPA-H. For more on the need for health policy that respects both science and people living with obesity, click here.

Searchlights, painting by C. R. W. Nevinson / WikiArt

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March 20, 2022

2 Responses to “ARPA-H: Aiming for Breakthroughs in Obesity Science”

  1. March 20, 2022 at 7:37 am, John DiTraglia said:

    Bravo. But maybe it’s not the social, economic, and cultural factors that are fuelling obesity.

  2. March 20, 2022 at 2:06 pm, Allen Browner said:

    Wow! Who got to President Biden? Potentially great news! Next question – “how do we take advantage of it?”