Date December 20, 2023
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Brown joins federally supported investor catalyst group turning biomedical ideas into solutions

The goal of the regional collaboration of investors, entrepreneurs and researchers is to accelerate the development of innovative health care solutions.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — When Dr. Mukesh K. Jain, dean of medicine and biological sciences at Brown University, learned that the U.S. government’s biomedical research agency, the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, was launching a national search for a hub location, he knew Brown had to get involved.

“This is a massive national effort to accelerate better health outcomes by supporting the development of high-impact biomedical solutions — and Brown’s own strategic plan involves investing in research for impact,” Jain said. “How could we not want to be a part of it?”

This fall, Brown University was selected as one of the inaugural “spokes,” or members, of the Investor Catalyst Hub, the Boston-based hub of ARPANET-H, the agency’s national health innovation network.

The goal of the Investor Catalyst Hub is to speed the transition of innovative ideas into practical, accessible health solutions to benefit people and patients across the U.S. Spoke organizations gain access to potential funding and flexible contracting for faster award execution than traditional government contracts. Spoke membership also offers opportunities to provide input on ARPA-H challenge areas and priorities and access to valuable networking opportunities.

According to ARPA-H leaders, the name nods to the history of a similarly groundbreaking federal initiative — the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s original ARPANET, which eventually became the internet — and is meant to convey the ambitiousness of the effort. The government is providing considerable financial support: The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023 allocated $1.5 billion to ARPA-H through the Department of Health and Human Services.

Alongside Brown, the Investor Catalyst Hub is comprised of leading academic institutions, companies, investors and government groups. It is managed by VentureWell, a nonprofit organization based in Cambridge, Mass., that funds and trains STEM innovators and entrepreneurs.

Jain, who worked with the Brown Technology Innovations team to apply for the University’s membership in the consortium, discussed what the Investor Catalyst Hub means for Brown and what the Division of Biology and Medicine hopes to contribute.

Q: How does membership in the Investor Catalyst Hub further Brown's goals to invest in high-impact research?

In building a vision for life sciences research at Brown University, we knew that we needed to invest in innovation. What that means is helping Brown faculty take their discoveries all the way from petri dish to clinical impact, and supporting them with resources and mentorship to translate the resulting discoveries into solutions. Being a part of the Investor Catalyst Hub offers access to funding from the federal government as well as private sector connections. It provides faculty researchers access to advance information on potential new ARPA-H programs where funding may be available as well as opportunities to engage with thought leaders and innovators in biotechnology and biopharmaceutical venture capitalists, who can then facilitate the development of their technologies.

Q: What is Brown's contribution to the hub collaboration?

If we bring a product to market through the research and work of our faculty and with support from the Investor Catalyst Hub, we can then assess that intervention in our community with the help of our health system partners in Rhode Island. Whatever that innovation is — a diagnostic, therapeutic, device, health app — if we can show that it is impactful within the community of a million and a half lives that are served by the health systems, Lifespan and Care New England, then lessons learned from that intervention can help us scale to the nation and the globe.

For example, Brown is going to be focusing on RNA science that could lead to new diagnostics and therapeutics that touch all medical disciplines — all diseases. Because RNA has such potential, we've been helping to catalyze a national conversation around sequencing RNA, and we are investing heavily in this space. As a member of the Investor Catalyst Hub, we will be looking for ways to bring Brown's expertise to bear on creating game-changing discoveries and technologies and realizing that potential for patients.

Q: How will participation in a Massachusetts-based hub benefit Providence and Rhode Island?

Boston is a global hotbed for the biotech and biopharma industries, and Providence is just 45 minutes away. Here in Providence, thanks to the state’s investment in biomedical innovation, we will soon be able to offer local incubator space. So not only will researchers from Brown be able to leverage Boston-based networks and receive support, mentorship and intellectual collaboration, then they’ll also be able to start companies right here in Providence.

Q: The Investor Catalyst Hub is one of three regional hubs within the ARPANET-H consortium: a hub in Dallas focuses on designing for patients and their caregivers, and a hub in Washington is coordinating with federal partners and managing ARPA-H’s programs. How do you see the hubs working together?

In addition to offering financial support and industry connections, the ARPANET-H network can help facilitate collaborative engagements. An idea from the research hub in D.C. can be translated, commercialized and realized with our Investor Catalyst Hub, and evaluated and assessed from a consumer or patient experience standpoint, in the Texas hub. As an example, the network reached out to us seeking Brown experts in urologic cancers to advise on a specific type of imaging technology, which led to new connections between researchers and Brown clinicians.

So we've already benefited a little bit from collaborative engagement, and we hope to be more involved as the hub achieves full operational capacity and engages with the nation in the coming months.