Recursion Pharmaceuticals, an emerging biotech company founded in 2013 based on technology developed at the University of Utah, has been awarded $1.46 million from the NIH via the National Center for Accelerating Translational Sciences (NCATS). Just over half of the award is available in the first year; the rest will come through in year two pending availability of funds and project progress. The award will support the further development of Recursion’s Drug Screening Platform for hundreds of rare genetic diseases.
Recursion’s focus on rapidly finding new uses for known drugs fits closely with NCATS initiatives, which includes Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs.
“NCATS is working diligently to increase small business participation in federally supported R&D,” said Lili Portilla, NCATS director of strategic alliances. “Our SBIR and STTR programs are just two of NCATS’ initiatives to fund small businesses with an eye toward commercialization of tools and therapies that will get more treatments to more patients more quickly.”
The award provides support for Recursion to model 2,000 genetic diseases in multiple human cell types. The company uses high-throughput microscopy to image these models and computational algorithms to identify structural changes in the cells that can be considered to be fingerprints for each disease. When a disease fingerprint is identified, Recursion will evaluate the potential of a few thousand known or experimental drugs to rescue the model. This approach means that companies or institutions that partner with Recursion will be able to evaluate the potential of their mature molecules as treatments for hundreds of diseases in an incredibly short period of time.
Blake Borgeson, co-founder and chief technology officer of the company, said, “Our entire effort is about scale, efficiency and turning drug discovery into a data-science problem. By harnessing several recent technological advances in experimental biology, imaging and computational analysis, we are able to parallelize the process. This award is a vote of confidence in our innovative approach, and will enable us to accelerate our work.”
Recursion already has modeled 65 genetic diseases and is conducting drug screens on a subset of these now. The identification of two potential treatments for a disease called Cerebral Cavernous Malformation gave rise to the idea for Recursion when the technology was still in the academic laboratory of Dr. Dean Y. Li, M.D., Ph.D., vice dean of research at University of Utah Health Sciences, a founder of the company and its chief scientific officer.
Rare diseases affect nearly one in 10 Americans, yet identifying novel treatments for each of these thousands of diseases using traditional approaches doesn’t scale economically.