One of three ARPA-H headquarters, the hub at Pegasus Park will focus on patient access and diversity for the agency’s projects.
By Marin Wolf
The Dallas Morning News
12:00 PM on Sep 26, 2023
A $2.5 billion federal biotech research agency will call Dallas home after months of targeted campaigning by Texas cities, universities and science advocates, cementing North Texas’ place among the nation’s major life sciences hubs.
The Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, known as ARPA-H, announced the decision on Tuesday to establish one of its three headquarters in the Lone Star State as part of a Biden Administration push to accelerate biomedical and health research. The hub will focus on customer experience, access and diversifying clinical trials for ARPA-H projects.
Dallas’ Pegasus Park will serve as the headquarters’ physical site, but the Texas hub will reach far beyond the sprawling, 26-acre biotech campus. Austin, San Antonio and Houston make up the rest of the consortium, managed by the firm Advanced Technology International. Stakeholders in El Paso and College Station have also thrown their support behind the statewide team.
Pegasus Park sits across Stemmons Freeway from the Dallas’ expansive Medical District. It’s about five miles from downtown and offers easy access to both major North Texas airports.
The campus will house project managers in charge of leveraging the diversity Texas has to offer, both in demographics and in types of research.
“One of the things that the Dallas group was really able to show was that they were able to bring communities from all over the state and the country together,” said Craig Gravitz, director of ARPA-H’s Project Accelerator Transition Innovation Office. “And we saw firsthand that it wasn’t just these big cities, but small communities as well, and that was such an important signal for us that the group that was in front of us really had that convening power that we were looking for.”
Tuesday’s announcement also launched ARPANET-H, the new name for the agency’s “hub and spoke” model that will include spoke sites across the country in addition to the specialized headquarters. The name is a nod to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s original ARPANET project, a public computer network that ultimately became the internet.
“When ARPA-H first began back in 2022, one of the first goals was to catalyze the health ecosystem,” said ARPA-H Director Renee Wegrzyn. “We can’t do that without people from every segment of the American health ecosystem, and we can’t do that without people from every walk of life in America and people involved in transitioning those health solutions.”
The initial list of spoke sites span the country, with locations in California, Alabama, Alaska and Wisconsin, among others. Becoming a spoke costs nothing to these partners, which can be hospitals, health systems or universities. The closest spoke site to Dallas is about four-and-a-half hours north in Tahlequah, Okla., at the Cherokee Nation Health Service.
A website will open tomorrow taking applications for additional spoke locations, said Tom Luce, director of biotech initiatives at Lyda Hill Philanthropies. The Dallas organization, dedicated to funding life sciences discoveries, spearheaded Dallas’ application to host ARPA-H.
Luce said he believes major players in the Dallas health care world would make good spokes, including UT Southwestern and Baylor Scott White Health. He specifically listed UT Southwestern Medical Center at RedBird, located south of Downtown Dallas, as a potential spoke site.
North Texas has long battled to stake its claim in the biotech world, going up against coastal research giants like Boston, Silicon Valley and North Carolina’s Research Triangle. Anchored by major medical institutions UT Southwestern in Dallas and the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth, DFW’s life sciences labor pool has increased by 17%, or 26,000 workers, since 2019, according to research by real estate firm CBRE.
“We wanted to make a statement, which Lyda Hill has been working toward for 10 years or more, to really say that North Texas can and should be at bio-life sciences hub for the country,” Luce said. “And in our mind, having ARPA-H is a statement that Texas is really now a bio-life sciences third coast alternative.”
Landing ARPA-H’s new home is a major win for Dallas, which lost a bid for Amazon’s second headquarters about five years ago after being named a finalist. The tech behemoth’s HQ2 ultimately went to Arlington, Va.
“North Texas is home to the best and brightest researchers and innovators, and Dallas being chosen as the site of the ARPA-H customer experience hub shows we can still do big things when we work together as Texans,” said U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas. “Today’s announcement further solidifies our region as a national leader in health care research and groundbreaking new treatments. This hub will also bring great jobs and supercharge economic development in an area where we are already growing.”
Architects of the bid for ARPA-H originally submitted an open-ended application detailing the unique benefits of each major Texas city.
Wegrzyn announced in March that the agency would have three headquarters, with one preemptively assigned to the Washington, D.C., area that will focus on partnerships. The exact location of the Capitol area hub has yet to be determined.
Another hub, which will be located in Cambridge, Mass., will serve as an “investor catalyst” dedicated to bringing discoveries to market.
A Houston consortium led by the Texas Medical Center also vied for the customer experience hub. Both the Dallas and Houston coalitions were selected to host site visits for the ARPA-H team, after which the Houston bid was eliminated, Luce said.
“It was disappointing. We wish they had not decided to. We wanted from the beginning for it to be a Texas bid, but Houston decided they were better off to go by themselves,” Luce said. “But, we certainly welcome them back. They have a lot offer.”
Lyda Hill Philanthropies played a significant role not only in forming the Dallas, Austin and San Antonio bid, but in establishing North Texas as an incubator for biotech research.
The firm’s namesake established UT Southwestern’s Department of Bioinformatics with a $25 million gift in 2015 and, more recently, her organization partnered with Research Bridge Partners to invest $4 million in helping researchers at the medical center spin their findings into full-fledged companies.
North Texas politicos also got in on the application action, with several lawmakers across the ideological spectrum penning a letter inviting Wegrzyn and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to visit Pegasus Park for themselves.
The Texas bid that ultimately won was a statewide effort that required the coordination of university systems, cities and hospitals. Luce said he and his team had a list of more than 600 people involved with the application to call following the announcement.