A new, independent, biomedical institute—Arena BioWorks—recently launched in Cambridge, MA. The institute’s mission is like many others: to uncover mechanisms of disease through basic biological research that can be translated into drug development. They are focused, they say, on determining the mechanisms of human disease and advancing new technologies to translate these insights into therapeutics through in-house biotech companies.
What is different about Arena Bioworks? One notable characteristic is the deep expertise (and deep pockets) in the team behind Arena Bioworks. The co-founders are Stuart Schreiber, PhD, professor at Harvard University and a co-founder of the Broad Institute, Steve Pagliuca, former Bain Capital co-chair and co-owner of the Boston Celtics, and Tom Cahill, MD, PhD, co-founder and managing director of Newpath Partners.
The scientific team includes Schreiber and Keith Joung, MD, PhD, a leader in the CRISPR field during his time as a researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital.
As part of its novel model, discovery and company creation will occur under the same roof. By relying solely on private funding, Arena asserts that it will be able to translate insight into discovery, distinguishing it from traditional models. Arena will support development efforts with its drug discovery platforms through preclinical studies and beyond.
“Arena’s approach to drug discovery, which hinges on strong basic science and relevant human biology, appeals to me as a physician-scientist,” noted Joung. “With an experiment that directly probes human biology, we can immediately consider how to answer fundamental questions in the most physiologically relevant way, which also puts us that much closer to translating the answer into a drug.”
Rather than focus on a particular area or disease, Arena will reach broadly across indications with the greatest unmet medical needs and for which there is a deep understanding of human pathobiology. These indications include areas of brain health, oncology, immunology, and aging, among others.
Arena will advance platform technologies including chemoproteomics, molecular glue and covalent drug discovery, high-throughput screening, protein and antibody engineering, gene and epigenetic editing, gene and cell therapies, drug delivery, and data science. As nature does not respect the arbitrary boundaries often drawn around scientific disciplines, leaders from a wide variety of fields will come together to work as one team to maximize the potential for innovation.
“There’s never been a greater opportunity for scientific entrepreneurs to make a difference for patients. Arena is launching at a threshold moment in biotech, with imminent discoveries poised to revolutionize medical care,” said Cahill. “We’ve crafted something special with Arena and are humbled by the progress our team has made. When we conceived the idea nearly two years ago, we never anticipated things would come together with so much energy and enthusiasm.”
Arena will foster cross-collaboration amongst its companies and provide shared, cross-discipline leadership, equipment, and space, allowing for efficient use of capital and acceleration of progress
As companies evolve and return capital, a portion of it will flow back to the institute, a differentiation from traditional research institutes. Over the long term, Arena will derive its operational funding through biotech companies built on its own discoveries. Other returns will be distributed such that scientists at all levels are incentivized to create value while working transparently and collaboratively.
“Arena aims to complement existing institutions,” said Pagliuca. “We are combining and building on the best practices from universities, institutes, and venture capital firms to create a new model that will speed the development of life-saving medicines for patients. In addition, by reinvesting a portion of the profits returned from discoveries and resulting therapies, Arena will be a self-sustaining center of excellence focused on improving human health in perpetuity.”
When a therapeutic is advanced, Arena companies will benefit from the expertise of founding investor Michael Chambers, co-founder of Aldevron. “Innovations in biomanufacturing have the power to lower the time and cost of delivering therapeutics without sacrificing their safety,” said Chambers. “I am excited to build on what we’ve learned at Aldevron to bring therapies to patients faster by harnessing AI, machine learning, and robotics in next-generation biomanufacturing of therapeutics developed at Arena.”