Amanda Arnold Sees the Innovation Ecosystem from a Unique Perch

In this installment of Science Policy IRL, we explore another sector of science policy: private industry. Amanda Arnold is the vice president of governmental affairs and policy at Valneva, a private vaccine development company, where she works on policy for creating, manufacturing, and distributing vaccines that address unmet medical needs, such as for Lyme and Zika. 

Arnold has worked in the science policy realm for over twenty years, first as a policy staffer for a US senator, then as a legislative liaison for the National Institutes of Health, and as a senior policy advisor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Arnold talks to editor Megan Nicholson about the role industry plays in the science policy enterprise and what she has learned about the US innovation ecosystem from working across sectors.

Is there something about science policy you’d like us to explore? Let us know by emailing us at [email protected], or by tagging us on social media using the hashtag #SciencePolicyIRL.

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Amanda Arnold



Megan Nicholson: Welcome to The Ongoing Transformation, a podcast from Issues in Science and Technology. Issues is a quarterly journal published by the National Academy of Sciences and by Arizona State University.

I’m Megan Nicholson, Senior Editor at Issues. For this installment of our Science Policy IRL mini-series, I’m joined by Amanda Arnold, Vice President of Governmental Affairs and Policy at the vaccine development company Valneva. In previous episodes of this series, we’ve learned about the science policy world by looking at federal agencies and non-profits. Today, we’re exploring a new frontier: private industry. We’ll talk to Amanda about the role industry plays in the science policy enterprise, her experience as a policy staffer on Capitol Hill, and what she has learned about the US innovation ecosystem from working across sectors.

Hi Amanda! It’s so great to have you on the podcast.

Amanda Arnold: Megan, I’m so happy to do this. Thank you for inviting me.

Nicholson: It’s great to have you. We have been opening all of the interviews for this series with the same question, which is kind of a tricky one. How do you define science policy?

From my point of view, science policy is when you have the role of innovation in society in mind, and you’re thinking about how the policies we make or the widgets we make or the things we do every day are related to science as you walk through your day.

Arnold: I have sat in so many conversations where people in this community were attempting to define it for almost two decades now. You hear a lot of science for policy and policy for science which I have never felt made any sense to me. So, from my point of view, science policy is when you have the role of innovation in society in mind, and you’re thinking about how the policies we make or the widgets we make or the things we do every day are related to science as you walk through your day. So for me, I walk through my day in policy in Washington and I think a lot about science as a component of this innovation context within which I work. And I’m not sure that’s a clearer answer, but it’s the one that makes sense to me. And I do think that there is a question about it not being a very well-defined space—this science policy space—but if you get all the people in Washington who do science policy in a room, it’s not a big room. So in the end, it might not seem very clear to each of us exactly what the definition is, but there’s definitely a unique set of people who do this thing referred to as science policy in Washington.

Nicholson: So let’s dive in a little bit more and have you talk more about the kind of science policy that you are doing day to day. What does a Vice President for Government Affairs and Policy do?

Arnold: When that Vice President for Government Affairs and Policy works at a vaccine maker, then we think about how our company fits into the larger innovation context about vaccines. In my particular case, I work for a really special company that works specifically to develop vaccines for neglected and tropical disease. So these are vaccines where there’s no clear immediate commercial market and there’s very few commercial companies working in that space. We’re publicly traded. And I was so drawn to that, because I’m usually in the government. I was also in the higher ed sector for a long time advocating for research and development funding. And now I’m in this space where the research and development funding is married with clinical development. We actually make a product and then figure out what is the business model for making the next product. And so in my world, it’s a little bit different than what people may be familiar with when they think about, for instance, big pharma.

In my world, yes, there is some component of a commercial market for those who travel abroad or for protecting our war fighters abroad from incredibly challenging infectious diseases for which there are medical countermeasures like vaccines. But there’s also this broader space of some amount of stockpiling, which absolutely needs to happen. And I spend a lot of time advocating for smart stockpiling that makes sense. And then there’s this other component of ensuring that people in countries who are actually being impacted by these tropical and other infectious diseases have access. And so we do a lot of licensing agreements to ensure that lower and middle income, LMIC, countries are able to access the products we’re making. I did my master’s thesis a long time ago on rare and elective disease vaccine development and it took me a long time to then circle into, in Washington, the actual policy I wanted to do, which is in relation to vaccine development with specific focus on infectious disease and outbreaks.

Nicholson: So it does seem like you’re bringing sort of a perspective from the research enterprise, this view— this overarching view—in your work day to day.

Arnold: I am, and I think that comes from a couple places because I have had a few folks more on the science side than on the policy side say, “What are you? You’re a weird hybrid.” But I think that comes from two places. One, my first science policy degree was in ’03, so I’ve been focused on this thing called science policy for 20 years. And I’ve been looking at what that means in Washington for the last 16. And during that time, I worked on the Hill for a Senator, and then I went over to work at the National Institutes of Health. So I had a sense for how does policy gets made and then how does policy gets implemented, and then something about the research dollars. And from then I went off to work with specifically MIT—which was the university that got me into this R&D ecosystem world—but there’s such a rich, wonderful population of people in Washington focused on that research enterprise. And, of course, I got my PhD from ASU, which is a shining beacon for support of the research enterprise. And so taking all of that and then going to work in this fantastic little private sector entity, I think I brought all of that with me and I’m not sure that would’ve happened had I not (A) gotten my PhD, but also worked in that higher ed community where so much of what you do is about that R&D ecosystem.

Nicholson: Let’s talk a little bit more about that, about universities having a presence in Washington and which universities are sort of the big players. You’ve worked for some of them, I think.

Washington is about knowing what you want, having a good darn reason for it, and following up with the papers so that people can follow up and make good policy.

Arnold: Yeah, I did a little “tour de universities” in Washington for about 10 years of my career. So it really depends on the goals. Universities are very local and that’s the greatest thing about them, right? I worked for public and private universities. I will say that there is such a legacy of engagement, and it’s your life for four years or for however many years you spend at the university. And so you automatically, when you walk into a room, you have a connection as someone who works on behalf of a university with anyone who went there, graduated from there, has a child there, et cetera. And I think that really… Washington, I don’t think it’s all about networking. I don’t think it’s all about relationships. Usually Washington is about knowing what you want, having a good darn reason for it, and following up with the papers so that people can follow up and make good policy.

But, people also say it’s about who you know. And I do think it’s helpful to be able to immediately connect with people so that you can deliver really important advocacy requests. For instance, I was part of a group that worked from 2010 or so to double NIH, to double that budget. And working with that university—it wasn’t just universities, it was universities in partnership with these other partners—I could see that universities, they have a different foot in the door in Congress. They have a different foot in the door in the federal agencies. From Congress’s point of view, it’s very much the hometown of where the Congress person is from. And there’s a lot of connection, there’s a lot of support to ensure that that university is successful. And then in Washington, those universities, especially a Research One university, does so much important work on that basic research and then that early research then gets magnified and turned into products. So universities are part of this engine, part of this innovation system, that we work with in Washington. And so they are revered in many ways. Not all of ’em, but many are revered. You’re wearing that white hat when you walk in the door.

Now I’ll speak from the national level. So many universities do a wonderful job at the state level. Now that’s critical. If you don’t have the support of your governor, if you don’t have the support of your local leadership over many, many decades, you’re not going to have a successful campus, a successful researcher ecosystem. So that’s critical. But then there are universities that want to invest in Washington, and I think they do that for different reasons. I did work for a couple of universities. I’ve worked for MIT, Texas A&M, and Arizona State. And I’d say Arizona State’s really in this conversation in Washington to really adjust the conversation about the future of higher ed. Texas A&M is here because Texas A&M is very connected to our national defense presence and very much connected to preparedness and response. And that is just something that permeates much of that state and its institutions. And then MIT is really in Washington in order to provide advice and ideas for the future of R&D direction. Really to set a pathway to say, “This is where we’ve been. If you need an idea about what’s lingering at the intersections of work that won’t be done otherwise, here it is.” They offer that advisory role to say, “If you’re interested in the next step, in funding the next step, here’s where that can be found.” Not just for, of course, MIT, but for research one universities engaged in the R&D ecosystem in a real way.

Nicholson: Thank you for giving us a picture of the objectives of those universities. And it’s interesting how different they can be. It also shows sort of an awareness of the political inclinations within the research ecosystem. I’m wondering if you started to develop that when you were on the Hill, or if you thought about that before or after?

Arnold: When I came here, I had already built an interest in politics over time. I had already worked in state level politics in Arizona. I had already been on a Senate campaign. I had already been on multiple House campaigns in New Hampshire. And I had done an internship with Senator Daschle and when he was the majority leader, which totally was great.

So really back then, which I hate to say, you had to make a choice about which side you were on, which seemed really daunting for me because prior to going to Arizona, I was in Montana. And in Montana you voted not the party, you voted for the person. Person not the party. And so that was a little bit anathema to me to have to choose the side so early on. And so I came to Washington then pretty seasoned with how I felt. And then I got into the details really when I started working on the Hill and started realizing there’s this broad spectrum of people in Washington. I mean, I’ll tell you, Congress is a great cross section of the people across America, right? I mean, you got all kinds. And I was on the Senate side. But you get a sense that, oh, I’m a certain party, but actually I’m this spectrum end of that party. And so where you figure out where you stand party politics-wise is really in the details of policy and the decisions your boss makes, right? You start thinking, “Hmm, I’m not sure that I totally support that.” And so it doesn’t matter, you have to go forth and do what the member of Congress wants to do because they’re the elected person. But it is an aspect on the Hill.

You stop personally being engaged so much in each other’s politics. You’re just there to make good policy on an important topic that you believe, that your institution believes, or that your company believes, will move that good policy ahead and make things better for Americans, which is the goal.

When you get to the agency, it’s not about a party unless you’re appointee. When you get to the agency, it’s about service to the U.S. And then when you leave the agency and you go into the private sector or you go into higher ed, it’s really about: I don’t really mind what your point of view is on X vote. Would I need you on is this agreement. For instance, I’ll give you an example of a critical priority for higher ed which is the R&D tax credit, research and development tax credit. It’s always been an important lingering priority. It’s a hard one to explain, but it’s not so much how that person voted on some challenging vote. It’s helping them understand that R&D tax credit, where they need to be in support of it, which bills are moving. So you really get into the mechanics and how to move something through a system, and you stop personally being engaged so much in each other’s politics. You’re just there to make good policy on an important topic that you believe, that your institution believes, or that your company believes, will move that good policy ahead and make things better for Americans, which is the goal.

Nicholson: At that first Hill job, were you working in health policy right away, or was that just science more broadly?

Arnold: Oh, you’re going to laugh. So I had just done this fancy science policy degree and I came on. I had come off of a nine months of field work, which is literally knocking doors. I mean, it is a tough gig, but I loved it. It was great. I was in Montana and I got hired on after I was doing a stint in the state legislature. And you just get handed a portfolio. Your portfolio—and I think the AAAS scholars will definitely hear and perhaps laugh at too—because you’re just handed a bunch of stuff when you’re a congressional staffer based on the fact that you’re an intelligent human and you can figure it out. I’ll give you one example. I ended up handling a critical component for Montana, which was transportation policy, and that included appropriations at the time. You changed lives by doing this. And I remember the senator came up to me… well, I’ll tell you. So it’s a quick story. Can I tell you a quick story?

Nicholson: Please! Yes.

Arnold: Okay. Okay. The senator, his first year, was put in the Russell Senate office building, which is beautiful and wonderful, but just because of his hierarchy, et cetera, we weren’t very close to his main office. His main office, his chief of staff, was separate from the legislative team, the mail, et cetera. We were upstairs and around the corner. Usually you’re right next to each other. And so I didn’t realize how lucky I was because when he would, or when the chief staff would, write and say, “We’ve got X in the office, I need to know Y.” Then I could Google quickly and figure out if I hadn’t known it from my own personal expertise. I’m a little bit light on transportation. Better now! But was then, a little bit light on transportation policy. And so I would oftentimes be Googling while running downstairs trying to figure out, “Where is this? Okay, that’s this organization.” To give you some tips to kind of walk in the right direction, to give him some sense for who he’s about to meet with, et cetera.

And we moved, when he got higher up in the echelon of Senators, we moved up to the Hart building. We were all in one office, in one space. I got a nice little cubicle and I was so happy. And then the Senator just rolls up to my cubicle and says, “Yeah, Amanda, I need to know: tell me everything you know about Red Diesel.” I said, “Sir, I know nothing about Red Diesel, but give me five minutes and I will connect what I know about other things. What exactly are you looking for?” Right? So that was the downside.

Nicholson: You lost your commute.

Arnold: I lost my Googling commute. That’s what happened.

Nicholson: What a kind of transformative learning experience. Supporting someone in a really pivotal role, but really challenging yourself at the same time.

So we’ve talked about your Hill experience. We talked a little bit about the agencies and their role. We talked about your work in academia and its representation in Washington. I know that you’ve worked a little bit with the National Academies on convergence. I’m wondering, can you talk a little bit about that work and your involvement in convergence-based research?

Arnold: Yes, that was the honor of my lifetime to date. It was such an honor to participate in that conversation which I think is still going and facilitating new pathways. So this was back when I was working for MIT. My first day in this group of very talented professors at MIT, and they basically said: the future of biology is integrated very closely with engineering, but NIH doesn’t know that, it’s all biology folks-focused. We need to integrate some additional capacities into this sort of research pathway because NIH has a lot of money and makes decisions about what gets funded. And if you’re not funding research because you don’t understand it, because you’re not an engineer or it’s outside of your expertise in general, then you’re not going to fund it, right? Because it’s peer reviewed research. And so I was tasked with supporting that crew of amazing people, including Phil Sharp and Bob Langer and others, amazing people who have founded amazing companies and done amazing things for the U.S. and for the people of the U.S.

I was tasked with putting that into words. And so I’ve done that a couple times for National Academies. And what happened was basically, we put a white paper out and then the National Academies had a couple opportunities to dig into it. I was participating on one convergence report the National Academies did, and then supportive of another convergence report the National Academies did. And there were two other major reports at the time. And then we were working… there was some advocacy associated with that convergence effort, which this integration of life, physical, engineering sciences through the peer review process, getting those capacities engaged.

Bioeconomy is sort of a buzzword in Washington, and at least it is now. It makes me laugh because Mary Maxon wrote the first bioeconomy report for the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House in, I don’t know, 2011 or something. And at that time, we were looking at really making the argument to the White House and specifically to Mary at OSTP, that convergence was an aspect. It was a pathway to facilitate the bioeconomy, that we needed to get alternative products we won’t get otherwise because we’re not doing this integrated research at the outset. There were some really interesting pathways that developed from the convergence work, including a lot of the team science reports. There were a couple of teams reports that emerged, and then the personalized medicine and precision medicine. Those two kind of aspects also were included in and came with convergence. And so I still see convergence manifesting, but I think in a lot of ways it’s happening because technology has been integrated in a way that it just wasn’t 15 years ago when the good folks at MIT started having this complaint about their very good peer reviewed research not being funded because it just simply was not sufficiently pure bio.

These little projects you’re given at work become integrated with the kind of expertise you build, and they make you into a professional that you’re going to be. You can’t get it anywhere other than just being the staffer who does the work. So it’s a real honor and a real aspect of being in Washington that I think is absolutely priceless.

Really cool. If I drop some ink in that pathway through my life, it’s really cool to watch all the connections that have emerged from that. In Washington, you have these times where you are doing something that’s important, that’s really going to change lives. It is really catching steam. It’s important. Convergence was one of them. And then the work I do in Biodefense is sort of another. And you’ll be in these rooms with subsets of the science policy community totally focused on those. And I can walk in a room and know where my convergence people are, and I can walk in a room and know where my biodefense people are. And I spend a lot more time on emerging infectious disease and biodefense readiness preparedness today than I do with convergence. But these things become integrated with the kind of expertise you build, right? These little projects you’re given at work become integrated with the kind of expertise you build, and they make you into a professional that you’re going to be. You can’t get it anywhere other than just being the staffer who does the work. So it’s a real honor and a real aspect of being in Washington that I think is absolutely priceless.

Nicholson: The mix of people, the convergence of people.

Arnold: The convergence of people. Yes.

Nicholson: Our last sort of big question is: what motivates you to do this work? What are your motivations, what gets you up in the morning and keeps you up at night?

Arnold: So we were all living through the pandemic. And I was just thinking, “Yeah, sure, I guess we’ll solve this problem, but how? Are we going to get a vaccine and what does that mean and how did this work? And can we do it again?” So I think my own interest in rare, neglected tropical disease started when I was quite young because I thought, “Well, people shouldn’t die of something that a product can be developed for. That shouldn’t be a thing.” But now it’s much more central to who I am, which is that I don’t want to go through another pandemic. I want to prevent pandemics. And so at this point now, really making sure that we do everything we can to prevent them. There’s so many different little tweaks to cold viruses and different infectious diseases that are out there, and there’s so much work to be done.

So now I get to not only be part of a company that’s creating vaccines as an answer, but I also get to be part of the discussion: how do we make sure these vaccines are ready? How do we make sure these vaccines can be manufactured? What if we need to surge in crisis? And I get to have much bigger discussions that include all the different outbreaks that are happening sort of as we move. We just went through, we’re in an RSV, we’re coming out of the RSV sort of effort. We had the monkeypox sort of nervousness. These kind of flow through our worlds now pretty consistently. And so I get to actually affect that, change that, and support answers to that. And I mean: does it get better? Right? No, is the answer. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Nicholson: I know that you’ve thought about this a lot. I would love to just hear some of your reflections on the way that, from a research enterprise standpoint, the pandemic has changed the way that we think about vaccine development.

You can absolutely say the next outbreak is a plane right away and people immediately understand the real value of thinking globally versus locally on that particular topic.

Arnold: Oh my gosh. It’s such a good question, and I could probably write another big pile of research on it because we don’t fully know yet. So on how it’s affected vaccine development is that we realized… The biggest impact, I think, is that we realized that we cannot have a national response. We have to have a global response. So that means we’re not being nationally prepared, we’re being globally prepared. And I think if I had to choose one change that has happened that the pandemic forced, it was that move away from nationalism and the move toward globalism. On a very basic level, we’re not having those discussions so much about protecting America. We’re talking about protecting our citizenry, sure. But we’re much more having those conversations about what are the delivery mechanisms in place to get these vaccines to the places where we know some of these potential contagions are endemic. How do we provide vaccines, for instance, to people in those regions so that (A), there isn’t a breakout there, but (B), that doesn’t manifest, we don’t manifest a breakout here. I mean, you can’t talk about the pandemic on the Hill. It’s too political. But you can absolutely say the next outbreak is a plane right away and people immediately understand the real value of thinking globally versus locally on that particular topic.

Nicholson: And in your current role now in the private sector, do you get to work in that more globalized space in vaccine development?

Arnold: I do. Oh my goodness. So I do very local things. We’re working on developing and supporting something that was authorized in the 2023 budget, which is a state stockpile opportunity to augment the strategic national stockpile. So making sure that’s done well. So that’s very much at the local level. Engaging with state level health department folks about what would you stockpile if you had X dollars and a grant from the United States. So there’s that discussion. But then I was also communicating with a lot of my friends—who are my friends now because we all have been working together for so long—saying, okay, we watched some of these organizations try to provide vaccines globally. And there were a lot of challenges with that, right? There were complaints about how it was done. We had sort of real time learning about what that looks like. And we had never attempted it before. Not we, but the world, had never attempted that necessarily before.

And so, now I’m actually working—I worked with my company and several other organizations to talk about what can we do to build this ability to turn turnout stockpiled components, countermeasures, that we’re not going to use in the US right before they expire. How can we give those or sell those or make them usable internationally instead of just letting them go bad. There’s quite a lot that we are stockpiling as a country that we could give to areas where there’s an endemic issue. And so it is absolutely a jurisdictional issue, but I get to work on that right now. And it’s because all of us are personally and professionally engaged in making sure that we’re protected, globally and locally. So I’m really excited about that. We’re actually working on report language for FY25 and just finished a white paper on it. So exciting times. This is the things I get excited about. White papers. I can frame the white papers I’m super excited about in this world. There’s like three.

Nicholson: Yeah, that is all really wonderful. You have such an interesting cross sectoral background, and I’d love to know a little bit about the motivations for moving between those sectors and if that was a trajectory you saw for yourself at the beginning of your career or if that was sort of opportunity based along the way.

Arnold: Absolutely. That’s such a good question. And I was just thinking about it the other day because I was just thinking like, “Oh, I’ve actually been doing this for a while now. I wonder if this is what I’m going to do for a while now.” And I think I started very much thinking I was going to be all politics all the time and be in elected politics and maybe work in state politics or national politics, but I knew I wanted to be political. And when I got political, I realized that ho-ho, to get anything done is a lot of work to take a minor step. And that’s probably how it should be, frankly. It shouldn’t be easy to change the law or create new law.

While I appreciated the deliberatory aspect of it, it didn’t fit my need to make good change in this world. I went over to the federal agencies from the Hill and thought, “Oh, well, maybe this is it, right?” They do the implementation. They do—in this case, I went to NIH, and so it was a matter of this is helping. No one person does anything but helping to shape what gets discovered based on what Blue Sky Science, for instance, is funded. And that was great and was interesting, but I felt like I was just passing a lot of paper around, right? Saying, “Is this the right word? Is that the right word?” Because there is a lot of just due diligence that happens at the federal agencies where you have to actually make sure things are right. And that was fine, but not driving my need because that was implementing someone else’s sort of recommendations.

So then I went over to MIT, and that’s when I could really start this creative process of working with experts in the field to create a pathway, an idea for what’s next. And I did that for a long time. I loved working for universities because of that creativity, because of that space where you’re working with people who know the world, the corner of the world that they’re focused on, and actually can say, “Yeah, this policy would be better if.” And so that was really valuable to me, and I probably would’ve stayed there in higher ed if pandemic hadn’t happened. And so the pandemic happened. And because I was in higher ed, I was doing my PhD at the time and studying what happened in the pandemic and how the private companies responded and really getting a vast understanding, at least from my own point of view, about how different companies responded.

I began to get really interested in industry. I’d never been interested in industry. I never thought, I mean looked. I was like, I looked at the business school of kids. I remember when I was in college. They’re like, this is not me. And so all politics all the way. And so then I started, I got into that through talking to some of my friends from the biodefense world and doing some consulting, and then started bumping into a couple of companies that I thought were really neat, and then ended up where I am, and specifically because I’m marrying all of this work I did on the development process with now understanding this new space about commercialization and manufacturing, which is great.

I’m at a point where I really feel like I can do some really good work and be really supportive of the people making decisions from a perch in DC. And that’s the goal.

I’m at a point where I really feel like I can do some really good work and be really supportive of the people making decisions from a perch in DC. And that’s the goal. You don’t realize it when you’re young and you’re coming here, but really in the end, you’re looking for a perch from which you’re comfortable, from which you can support this process. And for me, also supporting the innovation ecosystem that’s so critical to me, which I think just to bring us around at the beginning, I think that’s why I define my career in science policy as based in this support for the R&D and innovation ecosystem because the two are intricately related in my life.

Nicholson: Thank you so much, Amanda. It’s been really great to talk to you. I think that you’ve really highlighted some of the dynamism of the research enterprise and the opportunities that there are for working and learning from it. So I really appreciate it.

Arnold: Yes! Come do science policy!

Nicholson: If you would like to learn more about Amanda Arnold’s work, check out the resources in our show notes. Is there something about Science Policy, you’d like to know? Let us know by emailing us at [email protected] or by tagging us on social media using the hashtag #SciencePolicyIRL.

Please subscribe to The Ongoing Transformation wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks to our podcast producer, Kimberly Quach, and our audio engineer Shannon Lynch. I’m Megan Nicholson, Senior Editor at Issues in Science and Technology. Thank you for listening.

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Cite this Article

Arnold, Amanda, and Megan Nicholson. “Amanda Arnold Sees the Innovation Ecosystem from a Unique Perch.” Issues in Science and Technology (April 16, 2024).