The Department of Health and Human Services has entered into a venture capital partnership to create a fund for technologies that can aid in the response to future public health emergencies.
HHS’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority office is joining forces with nonprofit Global Health Investment Corporation to launch a health security fund.
The agency will work with Global Health Investment Corporation to set priorities, and the nonprofit will operate the fund on its behalf, said Sandeep Patel, director of BARDA’s Division of Research, Innovation and Ventures, in a phone interview.
BARDA will provide GHIC with a minimum of $50 million over five years, with the potential to grow up to $500 million over 10 years. GHIC will collaborate with companies worldwide and structure investments with matching capital from private investors.
In addition to the funding, BARDA will provide guidance on the commercialization of products and share its scientific and regulatory expertise with GHIC as it runs the fund.
The fund will invest in a broad array of technologies to better prepare for public health emergencies in the future, Patel said. The focus will be on technologies that can be commercialized but also provide a public benefit. Some examples of this would be a drug discovery platform that can help identify and screen aniviral drugs faster or novel vaccine technology.
Though the HHS has had the authority to create a fund since the 21st Century Cures Act was enacted in 2016, its launch about four years later comes at an opportune moment — on the heels of a once-in-a-century health crisis.
“Coming out of Covid-19, I think it’s clear that there are a number of technologies we could invest in now that would better prepare us in the next emergency, whether it’s a pandemic or something else,” Patel said. “[So] we need to start now.”
Venture capital interest in healthcare technology is currently soaring, with companies around the world raising a record-breaking total of $31.6 billion in the first quarter of 2021. Companies with innovative technology are competing for these dollars and may not be looking to the government as a potential source of funding. Through the new health security fund, BARDA wants to reach those innovators, Patel said.
“We want to make sure we are reaching them where they are and speaking their language,” he said.
The fund will also complement BARDA’s Division of Research, Innovation and Ventures’ existing efforts, which includes supporting 37 companies through federal contracts as well as a network of 13 accelerators supporting early-stage companies.
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