Arc Institute is a nonprofit research organization headquartered in Palo Alto, California. Arc is an independent institute that operates in collaboration with Stanford University, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, San Francisco.
According to Arc, 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, Arc also believes that many important discoveries will be enabled by new research models. As such Arc is designed to accelerate scientific progress in an area dedicated to the study of complex human diseases.
Arc’s immediate goal is to free Arc researchers to focus on their most important ideas. In its recent work on Fast Grants, Arc 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. According to Arc, this is an unexpected consequence of a centralized, project-based funding system that decides the science Arc can do, while perhaps failing to enable many of the organization to work on its 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 will grow to 10–20 people each, is completely flexible because the organization is betting on people rather than specific project ideas. By “pre-funding” its scientists, Arc hopes to avoid the Gordian knot of incentives that currently entangles grant funding success, single-author credit, and high-impact publications. In short, the idea is to incentivize high-risk, high-reward research, long-term problem solving, and cross-specialty collaboration.
Arc is partnered with Stanford University, UC Berkeley, and UCSF so that its 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. Its 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.
Arc will also provide first-class operations, administration, and laboratory space to enable scientists to focus on their best work. Arc’s idea is complementary to the existing model that largely relies on researchers pursuing external grants while shouldering significant administrative and operational responsibility.
Arc believes the current scientific ecosystem focuses too much 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 scientists and technology developers by providing competitive compensation and benefits for both experimental and computational roles. It hopes 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. Arc sees this as a cooperative, positive feedback loop as biological questions emerging from its Core Labs will be a key inspiration for its 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. Arc sees 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. It 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, Arc believes it will be able to facilitate therapies that have a higher chance of success.
Arc also believes 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, it plans to 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. Its goal is to empower Arc scientists, engineers, and inventors to accelerate their work into impact on patients.
Arc believes 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, its growth through 2025 will be gradual, with the goal of building a culture and organization that can scale effectively. It plans to open a call for core investigator applications in 2022, while many positions for technology center group leaders, scientists, and operations staff are immediately available. Check out Arc’s Jobs page to learn more.
Silvana Konermann, Incoming Executive Director and Core Investigator
Silvana is an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at Stanford. Her research laboratory aims to understand the molecular pathways that drive the development of Alzheimer’s disease using next-generation functional genomics, with the long-term goal of developing rationally targeted therapeutics for neurodegenerative disorders. She received her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from MIT. Silvana’s pioneering work on tools to directly perturb the transcriptomic landscape of the cell using CRISPR has been recognized by her faculty appointment as a Chan Zuckerberg Biohub Investigator and Hanna Gray Fellow of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Patrick Hsu, Cofounder and Core Investigator
Patrick Hsu is an Assistant Professor of Bioengineering and Deb Faculty Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley. His lab develops molecular technologies to improve human health through next-generation diagnostics and therapeutics. Patrick received A.M. and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard University and the Broad Institute, where he helped to pioneer CRISPR-Cas9 technologies for genome editing. His research has been recognized in Forbes’ 30 Under 30, the NIH Early Independence Award, the MIT Technology Review’s Innovators Under 35, the Rainwater Prize for Innovative Early Career Scientist, and the Amgen Young Investigator Award.
Lingyin Li, Core Investigator
Lingyin Li is an Associate Professor in the Biochemistry Department and the ChEM-H institute at Stanford. She received her Ph.D at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with Dr. Laura Kiessling and performed postdoctoral studies with Dr. Timothy Mitchison at Harvard Medical School. The Li Laboratory has pioneered the development of chemical tools to define and manipulate new modulators of the innate immune STING pathway. Dr. Li is the recipient of the NIH New Innovator Award in 2017, the Ono Pharma Foundation Breakthrough Science Initiative Award in 2017, and the 2022 Eli Lilly Award in Biological Chemistry.