HHS launches new initiative to address health concerns as national security threats

The Department of Health and Human Services has launched a new initiative that aims to accelerate innovations for addressing systemic health concerns with a similar approach that's been taken for addressing manmade health threats.

DRIVe, or Division of Research, Innovation and Ventures, was unveiled on Tuesday as a new component of the department's Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR). It will be spearheaded by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA). 

DRIVe will take advantage of new powers granted to BARDA under the 21st Century Cures Act to fund innovation through both grants and venture capital investment. It will also unite a network of accelerators to identify promising interventions. 

"It's now time to address those systemic problems, the ones common to most illnesses and injuries," Rick Bright, Ph.D., director of BARDA and deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response, said in a statement. "Those need to be resolved to save even more lives." 

Sepsis is a key launch focus for DRIVe, and the agency is seeking partnerships to launch education, rapid diagnostic, patient monitoring and machine learning-based interventions. 

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Sepsis is the leading cause of death for hospital patients and leading cause of readmissions. Recent research suggests that, although progress is being made in mortality, half of sepsis patients fail to fully recover from the condition. 

"With DRIVe, we're focusing on solving sepsis in our lifetime," Bright said. "Too many lives are lost because of sepsis, and if a national health emergency arises, sepsis will surely take more." 

In addition to focusing on sepsis, DRIVe's launch projects include ENACT, or Early Notification to Act, Control and Treat. This program aims to harness new health technologies to make patients more aware of their own health status and empower them to take a greater role in their own health outcomes. 

Other focus areas for DRIVe include ending animal testing and developing more universal treatment options for certain types of infections. 

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Bright said during a call with reporters on Tuesday that DRIVe is designed to act quickly when it identifies a solid investment opportunity. 

"Our goal is to be able to review innovations in under 30 days," Bright said. 

DRIVe has already secured eight partnerships, according to its website, including Texas Medical Center Innovation Institute and the State University of New York Research Foundation.