In an unmarked laboratory stationed between the campuses of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a splinter group of scientists is hunting for the next billion-dollar drug.
The group, bankrolled with $500 million from some of the wealthiest families in American business, has created a stir in the world of academia by dangling seven-figure paydays to lure highly credentialed university professors to a for-profit bounty hunt. Its self-described goal: to avoid the blockages and paperwork that slow down the traditional paths of scientific research at universities and pharmaceutical companies, and discover scores of new drugs (at first, for cancer and brain disease) that can be produced and sold quickly.
Braggadocio from start-ups is de rigueur, and plenty of ex-academics have started biotechnology companies, hoping to strike it rich on their one big discovery. This group, rather boastfully named Arena BioWorks, borrowing from a Teddy Roosevelt quote, doesn’t have one singular idea, but it does have a big checkbook.