Using Biology-as-a-Platform to Move from Treatment to Cure
By Zachary Bogue 09.09.20
When we talk about backing startups solving some of the world’s hard problems computationally, we never lose sight of how those startups will help people in their daily lives. Today, as we solidly support Recursion’s Series D financing, is an opportunity to take a closer look at what we mean.
- About 1 in 100 to 200 people have Cavernous Malformations - irregular collections of small blood vessels which can happen anywhere in the body. In some rare instances, where they occur in the brain, these malformations can burst and cause neurologic problems, including changes in hearing or vision, paralysis, strokes, or seizures.
- Neurofibromatosis is a genetic disorder that causes tumors to form on nerve tissue - which can develop anywhere in the body, including the brain and spinal cord. ‘Type 2’ Neurofibromatosis, estimated to affect only 1 in 33,000 people worldwide, can result in hearing loss, poor balance, or a ringing in the ears.
- More than 130,000 people in the US are affected by a disease of the lungs called Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, where a thickening or scarring of tissue can make it difficult for people to breathe. About 50,000 new cases are diagnosed each year - making this a rare, but growing concern for public health.
These are just three of the rare but highly impactful diseases and disorders the team at Recursion have devoted themselves to fighting, which combines proprietary machine learning and machine vision with a unique strand of molecular bioscience to massively accelerate drug discovery.
Recursion is an exemplar of what we mean when we talk about biology-as-a-platform – using automation and machine intelligence to speed up our understanding of biology, and then applying that knowledge to a seemingly unending number of fields that span from drug discovery to material science to agriculture.
In drug discovery, existing business models for pharmaceutical products are poorly designed to tackle the kind of rare, but serious, conditions like those listed above. Recursion’s novel approach is changing the economics of drug discovery, allowing them to tackle the types of diseases that have been underserved by traditional approaches. They have rapidly moved from drug discovery and preclinical testing all the way to clinical trials on multiple fronts since the company was founded in 2013.
Today, we’re reaffirming our commitment to Recursion’s mission by participating in their Series D financing and congratulating them on a big partnership with German pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG. With the new funding and partnership, Recursion now also points its powerful platform at a breadth of fibrotic diseases.
When we first backed Recursion in 2016, we saw a company opening up the opportunities of drug discovery with a novel approach to automation, machine learning, and a target-agnostic strategy that has helped them maintain a robust pipeline of potential treatments. Today we see a company that’s changing the economics of tackling rare diseases - and making a real difference in people’s lives by making diseases and genetic disorders more treatable. And, all signs point to the platform having broad applicability – well beyond just rare diseases and fibrosis.
Over this time period, CEO Chris Gibson and the entire Recursion team have made spectacular strides. Those include assembling the world’s largest biological image dataset, launching a wholly-owned subsidiary to fight Neurofibromatosis 2, and striking partnerships with major life sciences groups including Sanofi, Takeda, and now, Bayer.
In the last year alone, Recursion has doubled the size of their database of cell images, doubled the number of clinical and preclinical programs in their pipeline, and open-sourced the first human cellular morphological dataset of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) in an effort to help researchers around the world fighting COVID-19.
In the same way Recursion has combined automation in wet lab environments to generate a unique and proprietary biological image data set to power their AI drug discovery platform, the enormous potential of biology-as-a-platform extends to DCVC’s entire investment philosophy.
By applying the latest advances in science, robotic engineering, and AI software development to biology, Deep Tech startups like Recursion, Freenome and Zymergen are powering innovation on a newfound scale to remake their own respective industries.