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WASHINGTON — Health secretary Xavier Becerra is suddenly the target of a frenzied lobbying campaign aimed at ensuring the independence of ARPA-H, the new high-stakes research agency that President Biden has said will “end cancer as we know it.”

But in a strange turn, many of the lobbyists are actually lawmakers. In recent days, Becerra has met with members of Congress, and a top aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — a far more powerful set than the cohort of patient advocates or pharma and hospital representatives who usually seek meetings at the Humphrey building. By and large, their message has been identical: That for the new agency to succeed, it must exist independently of the National Institutes of Health.


The last-minute advocacy effort comes as Becerra faces a Wednesday deadline to determine ARPA-H’s fate. President Biden’s White House has long advocated for the agency to exist as a unit within the National Institutes of Health. So, too, has Francis Collins — the longtime NIH director who retired in December, only to be called back into service last month as the new White House science adviser.

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