Introducing Arc Institute
Biomedical innovation in areas such as mRNA technology, gene editing, and cell therapies suggest that historic medical breakthroughs could be achieved in the years ahead. While the prevailing organizations for scientific research have yielded tremendous successes, we also believe that many important discoveries will be enabled by new research models. To accelerate scientific progress, we are launching the Arc Institute, a new scientific institution dedicated to the study of complex human diseases.
Our immediate goal is to free Arc researchers to focus on their most important ideas. In our recent work on Fast Grants, we focused on providing science funding during the Covid pandemic, learning how rapid and flexible funding models in academia can positively impact science. Nearly 80% of Fast Grants recipients said they would change their research program “a lot” if all of their existing funding could be spent in an unconstrained fashion. This is an unexpected consequence of a centralized, project-based funding system that decides the science we can do, while perhaps failing to enable many of us to work on our best ideas at the individual level.
Arc Institute faculty will have unprecedented ability to pursue curiosity-driven science, since Arc will fully fund salary, staff, and projects for renewable eight-year terms. The funding for these labs, which we envision will grow to 10–20 people each, is completely flexible because we are betting on people rather than specific project ideas. By “pre-funding” our scientists, we hope to avoid the Gordian knot of incentives that currently entangles grant funding success, single-author credit, and high-impact publications. We hope to incentivize high-risk, high-reward research, long-term problem solving, and cross-specialty collaboration.
Arc Institute is partnered with Stanford University, UC Berkeley, and UCSF. This means that our Core Investigators can hold tenured, tenure-track, or adjunct faculty appointments within relevant academic departments at partner universities, and that graduate students at Stanford, UC Berkeley, and UCSF may conduct their PhD work within Arc labs. Our researchers will be physically colocated at the institute headquarters in Palo Alto, CA to enable close collaborations. Additionally, Arc is starting an Affiliate Investigator program to support faculty who are primarily located at Stanford, UC Berkeley, and UCSF, expanding the connection among the four institutions.
In addition to augmenting this global talent cluster and intellectual community, Arc will provide first-class operations, administration, and laboratory space to enable scientists to focus on their best work. We see Arc as complementary to the existing model that largely relies on researchers pursuing external grants while shouldering significant administrative and operational responsibility.
In the current scientific ecosystem, a lot of the focus is on novelty rather than robustness or reproducibility. In an academic setting, it can be challenging to have a long-term, successful career focused on developing and comparing technological tools to make them more effective, accurate, and broadly available—even though technology development is some of the most important work in science and all disciplines are becoming increasingly dependent on complex tooling.
After a PhD or postdoc, many researchers leave academia for industry, thereby slowing scientific progress because academic research teams often struggle to maintain long-term know-how and expertise. Arc will retain these amazing scientists and technology developers by providing competitive compensation and benefits for both experimental and computational roles. We hope this will enable attractive career paths in research beyond the training period.
Arc Technology Centers will build biotech-like research teams that focus on technology invention, refinement, and benchmarking, while collaborating with Core Labs to try different methods for solving biological problems. We see this as a cooperative, positive feedback loop as biological questions emerging from our Core Labs will be a key inspiration for our biotechnology development efforts.
Making an impact on complex diseases requires new fundamental biological insights into disease mechanisms and new technologies that can target rational therapeutic pathways at the right place and time in the body. We envision that some of the collaborative research between our Core Labs and Technology Centers will enable successful target identification for complex diseases. Two of the Centers—ex vivo cell models and mammalian disease models—are specifically designed to address the oft-lamented challenges of translating rodent-based treatments to humans. We will also support focused, entrepreneurial teams dedicated to testing specific ideas, such as a new gene target or effector molecule, within the institute. By employing the proven scale of biotech processes in academic work through our technology centers, we will be able to facilitate therapies that have a higher chance of success.
However, we also believe the rate limiting step in new medicines is not necessarily new ideas or technologies, but the low availability of effective paths for advancing innovations in the commercial setting. Early-stage drug development is becoming cheaper and more predictable, yet it remains very difficult for many new therapeutic concepts to advance beyond the research lab because starting a biotech company is still a highly bespoke and relationship-based process.
As Arc scales, we will establish a Translation Program as a key operational pillar. This branch of the institute will be dedicated to reducing the friction of transferring academic research into for-profit spin-outs. This includes a streamlined IP licensing process, funding support, and an advisory network of drug development and domain experts. Our goal is to empower Arc scientists, engineers, and inventors to accelerate their work into impact on patients.
We believe that happy scientists feel more free to do creative work, and that the scientific system needs to expand the ecosystem of attractive career paths for brilliant researchers who want to tackle their most important ideas. As a result, our growth through 2025 will be gradual, with the goal of building a culture and organization that can scale effectively. We will open a call for Core Investigator applications in 2022, while many positions for Technology Center group leaders, scientists, and operations staff are immediately available. Please visit our Jobs page to learn more.
Island arcs are chains of oceanic islands formed by converging tectonic plate boundaries, and are key contributors to continental growth.
For us, this invokes the kind of science we’re hoping to do at Arc: by bringing together researchers across many institutions and disciplines to create something new.