Recursion Pharmaceuticals has announced a $1.46M award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) via the National Center for Advancing 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 research and development,” 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.”
Chris Gibson, Ph.D., Co-founder and CEO of Recursion remarked: “We are incredibly excited to announce this award, which will enable us to expand our work to model thousands of rare genetic diseases. Our focus on repositioning drugs for which we already have human safety data means that any discovery we make has likely already been significantly de-risked.”
The timing of the NIH award coincides with International Rare Disease Day on Saturday, Feb. 28. Rare diseases affect nearly 1 in 10 Americans, yet identifying novel treatments for each of these thousands of diseases using traditional approaches doesn’t scale economically. “We expect that our approach, along with partnerships now in the works with larger pharmaceutical companies, will help accelerate the discovery of treatments for many of these diseases in a much shorter timescale,” Gibson said.
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 added: “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 has already 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. Dr. Li sees Recursion as a model for the type of translational science the University is focusing on promoting: “The core ideas for Recursion’s approach were made in my laboratory when a number of scientists with diverse backgrounds tried to solve a specific problem. That idea has spawned a company, which now has received millions of dollars in grants and private funding within 18 months of its formation and employs 4 graduates of the University. This cycle of academic innovation leading to real translational work is precisely what the University of Utah hopes to continue fostering.” Dr. Li is a founder of the company and its Chief Scientific Officer.