Salt Lake City-based Recursion, a next-gen biopharma company combines automated, experimental biology with artificial intelligence to discover and develop drugs at scale secured $121 million in Series C financing from an impressive group of investors.
Building a Drug Discovery & Development Machine
Recursion’s vision requires capital—and significant amounts. They will now use the funding to build out its machine learning-enabled drug discovery platform alongside new capabilities designed to radically accelerate new chemical entity chemistry and predict safety pharmacology. In parallel, it must continue to build out its growing pipeline of pre-clinical and clinical assets, including clinical-stage programs for cerebral cavernous malformation and neurofibromatosis type 2.
Although Utah is an outdoor wonderland (all seasons) with lots of distractions, it is a hard-nosed, driven business culture of entrepreneurial pioneering work. Since their Series B financing two years ago, Recusrion have accomplished quite a lot including:
- Put two drugs discovered on the platform into clinical trials
- Their first discoveries with Takeda were optioned
- Grew their automated experimental bandwidth by orders of magnitude
- Expanded beyond rare diseases into new therapeutic areas such as inflammation, infectious disease and immune-oncology
- Built a team from 64 to 150+ and continued to add star hires
- Opened 100,000 square foot headquarters in downtown Salt Lake City
TrialSite News is a Utah-based venture, so naturally we sought to celebrate this innovative firm’s accomplishment, but as always, we also critically review its position, status, goals, and objectives. We break down Recursion below.
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Background
Founded in 2013, Recursion Pharmaceuticals is a biotechnology company based in Salt Lake City. Recursion Pharmaceuticals combines experimental biology, automation, and artificial intelligence in a massively parallel system to quickly and efficiently identify treatments for any disease that can be modeled at the cellular level. From its initial and continued focus on drug repurposing to treat rare diseases, Recursion Pharmaceuticals has broadened its platform to probe rich data from highly thought-out automated screens for a number of indications, including aging, inflammation, infectious disease, and immunology. Recursion Pharmaceuticals is aggressively leveraging technology to build a robust and reliable map of human cellular biology, which will enable a radical shift in the pace and scale at which new treatments will benefit patients.
A Unique Approach
They bring a unique approach positioning themselves as a “tech first” life science company. By infusing artificial intelligence for continuous learning, they are obsessed with elegant, efficient and effective design. Although technology and science are critical—it is the people—the soft skills—that represents the magic. Recursion, we believe, has done a very good job of bringing together the right talent—biologists, data scientists, technologists and the right therapeutic know-how to design massively parallel screening protocols. They select experimental parameters to unlock the maximum data from their cellular image data sets, elucidate new biology in an unbiased fashion, and continue to build the world’s largest exquisitely curated repository of biological images.
Programming machine learning methods to identify new targets is the future. There are others addressing this market, but Recursion could be considered one of the more advanced players. Each week, they leverage AI to apply thousands of potential drugs to various kinds of diseased cells in what one Bloomberg article reported as 400,000 to 500,000 miniature experiments that generate 5 to 10 million cellular images. They apply the machine-learning algorithms to automatically scan the images, constantly on the search for compounds that disrupt disease without hurting healthy cells.
Originally coded in more traditional software development methodologies, they increasingly leverage investment capital to build neural network methods designed to interpret images and detect patterns impossible for the human eye.
Big Pharma Deals
The company inked a deal with multinational pharma Takeda and Sanofi to generate more than 2.5 petabytes of data.
Their pipeline continues to rapidly grow—a promising sign for future treatments and, of course, hefty valuation for the investors, founders and employees. They now have dozens of targets in development, 9 in preclinical and 2 in clinical trials.
The founders’ background, experience, and networks matter. Who is behind Recursion?
In our opinion, a unique, impressive and diverse set of backgrounds make for a very interesting intellectual property factory.
Blake Borgenson, Co-Founder, Scientific Advisor, Board Member
Blake earned a BS in electrical engineering from Rice University. He followed it with a year researching and building real-time navigation software for surgical procedures at the M.E. Mueller Institute in Bern, Switzerland. In 2005, he co-founded an e-commerce company, BuildASign.com, which currently employs over 350 in Austin and brought in over $80 million in revenue in 2015. After moving to an advisory role in the business, Blake completed a PhD in bioinformatics at UT Austin in the Marcotte Lab, using machine learning to exploit new experimental techniques in rapidly mapping protein complexes. He loves sunshine, mountains, and snow.
Chris Gibson, Co-Founder, CEO
Chris completed his PhD in Bioengineering at the University of Utah in the fall of 2013 before taking a leave of absence from medical school (he was enrolled in the MD/PhD program) to found and grow Recursion. He developed the core technology underlying this venture while in the lab of Dr. Dean Li. Chris comes from a family of entrepreneurs, is a graduate of Rice University with degrees in bioengineering and managerial studies, and recently completed an intense course in entrepreneurship at Stanford GSB. Chris is also a Board Member of CureHHT, a patient advocacy group for Hereditary Hemorrhagic Telangiectasia. Chris enjoys cycling on both the road and the trails that cut through Utah’s great wilderness, as well as spending precious time with his family.
Daniel Li, Co-Founder, Board Member
Dean is currently Vice President, Head of Translational Medicine at Merck & Co in New Jersey. Prior to his role at Merck, Dean was on the cutting-edge of translational medical research at the University of Utah for more than two decades. During his time at the University, he co-founded multiple biotech companies stemming from research from his laboratory, including Recursion, Hydra Biosciences and Navigen Pharmaceuticals. Dean served as the H.A. & Edna Benning Professor of Medicine and Cardiology, the Vice-Dean of Research at the University of Utah Health Science Center, and as the Chief Scientific Officer of University of Utah Health Care. Dean also served as interim CEO of Associated Regional University Pathologists (ARUP), the nation’s third largest clinical reference laboratory, from 2015 to 2016. Dean trained at Washington University in Saint Louis before coming to Utah to work as a post-doc in the laboratory of Mark Keating.
Recursion Pharmaceuticals is on the move. This “tech-first” life science venture represents a potential threat to the status quo in drug discovery and development. They are rapidly expanding potential therapeutic areas for clinical trials, including cardiology/metabolic, CNS/neurology, dermatology, hematology/oncology, immunology, ophthalmology, and others. They already have two compounds in phase I clinical trials. If these perform well and more candidates move into clinical trials, they represent an extremely valuable venture on the slopes of the Wasatch range.