Skip to main content

How HHS Aims to Accelerate Sepsis Innovation

Analysis  |  By Mandy Roth  
   June 21, 2018

Health system innovation centers could bring sepsis solutions to market through a new BARDA division.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is lighting a fire under sepsis innovation through a division that seeks to spur ideas from entrepreneurs, partnerships with accelerators and incubators, and interest from venture capital firms.

The newly formed Division of Research, Innovation and Ventures (DRIVe), which launched June 5, may offer health systems and hospitals—particularly those with innovation centers—opportunities to fast-track development of sepsis solutions, as well as other transformational technologies.

The division aims to unite innovators, investors, companies, and research teams "offering solutions to a broad range of national health security threats," according to its website. Those solutions may encompass drugs, early detection mechanisms that reduce illness and death from sepsis, technologies and processes to identify biological and other threats, and tools and techniques to mitigate the damages and loss of life associated with catastrophic events.

HHS considers sepsis a national health security issue because survivors of events normally associated with security perils—including chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats—are at a higher risk of developing sepsis. DRIVe operates under the auspices of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), a component of the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response.   

Rick A. Bright, PhD, deputy assistant secretary for Preparedness and Response and the director of BARDA, spoke with HealthLeaders Media about the initiative.

The following is a lightly edited excerpt of that discussion.

HLM: Of the various initiatives operating under the DRIVe program, what would be of most interest to our readers?

Bright: We have a component called the DRIVe-X. This is where we want to find ideas, projects, entities, groups, and entrepreneurs who are working to address the scientific gaps that were identified [through another DRIVe initiative]. In order to find those ideas, we realized that many of the entrepreneurs and innovators are not reading FedBizOps or Grant Solutions or the traditional places where BARDA and most of the government posts their initiatives and funding opportunities.

We've now enlisted eight different accelerators across the country and they're partners of ours. They will help comb the country for some of the best and brightest ideas at various stages of development. The accelerators will extend our needs, help identify those early ideas, nurture them, mature them, and help them write proposals to the funding opportunities that we have.

HLM: Many health systems have innovation centers that sometimes function as accelerators. Are you seeking additional partners for the accelerator network?

Bright: The initial funding opportunity that we put out is closed, but I would like to have a greater geographical distribution of the accelerators. The initial eight skirt along the outer edges and perimeter of our country. Even though each of these accelerators can span across the country and bring together ideas, it's sometimes better if you have something more regionally accessible, especially for early entrepreneurs.

[Visit or follow @BARDA on Twitter for updates on funding announcements and opportunities to work with DRIVe.]

HLM: Why has BARDA taken on the fight against sepsis?

Bright: We recognize that sepsis is a major public health issue and a national health security issue. BARDA wants to take on sepsis and solve sepsis because almost every single one of our national security health threats leads to sepsis, which leads to death.

In order to fully protect and treat and help an individual recover from national security threats, we must address an end-to-end solution, including treatment or protection from the initial insult, to reducing the incidence of sepsis to save more lives. If we were to take an area that would have the greatest impact in helping people recover from each of our threats, then the one area where we would focus would be sepsis.

HLM: How is DRIVe indicative of a different approach by the government to address health challenges?

Bright: This is a new approach for government, and for HHS—especially the focus on innovation—to be more business-friendly. It uses a model of acceleration to reach out across the country with new partners to find the best technologies and bring them to the fight to solve some of the largest health security challenges we've faced.

HLM: Why now?

Bright: Congress gave BARDA new authority in the 21st Century Cures Act. The new authority, number one, reiterated BARDA's role in driving innovation, but number two, it gave us a new authority to work with a third-party entity who will make investments on our behalf to leverage our government dollars with private equity funding to have an even greater impact in accelerating [innovation].

HLM: What's the bigger story here?

Bright: It's a unique moment in time where so much effort has gone into new ideas and innovation that have been maturing and incubating over the last decade or more. Biology, and synthetic biology, and artificial intelligence have all matured to the stage now that we can capture the best of those areas and use that to innovate our healthcare sector to be more effective and save more lives.

HLM: How much is being invested?

Bright: Drive will be given an initial appropriation of $25 million, and we are still working on the fiscal year 2019 and 2020 budget. It is important to recognize that BARDA has always focused on innovation so a certain percentage of our research and development dollars in BARDA will be focused on the DRIVe in all the areas of innovation.

Accelerator Partners

Eight accelerators have been selected to partner with DRIVe and opportunities for additional partnerships may become available. The initial round includes:

  1. The Center for Biotechnology at Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York
  2. First Flight Venture Center, Triangle Park, North Carolina
  3. Life Science Washington Institute, Seattle, Washington
  4. Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center, Lowell, Massachusetts
  5. MedTech Innovator, Los Angeles, California
  6. New Orleans BioInnovation Center, New Orleans, Louisiana
  7. Texas Medical Center Innovation Institute, Houston, Texas
  8. University City Science Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Mandy Roth is the innovations editor at HealthLeaders.

Get the latest on healthcare leadership in your inbox.