AI specialist Recursion nabs multibillion-dollar Roche partnership

Roche has formed a decade-long alliance with Recursion Pharma that will focus on using machine learning and “industrialised” drug discovery to find new neuroscience and cancer drugs.

The Swiss drugmaker is paying $150 million upfront to kick off the strategic-level partnership, which could cover as many as 40 programmes and could be worth “several billion dollars”, according to Salt Lake City-based Recursion.

At $300 million per target, if Roche does take 40 programmes forward and they are all successful – which of course isn’t a likely scenario – the alliance could be worth a whopping $12 billion.

The deal – which is weighted heavily towards neuroscience with just one cancer programme covered – is the second between Recursion and a big pharma company in the space of two days, coming on the heels of a smaller alliance with Bayer that will look for new fibrosis drugs.

The deals are an endorsement of Recursion’s Operating System (OS) platform, which is designed to “generate, analyse, and derive insight from massive proprietary biological and chemical datasets,” according to the company.

Another key element is its Recursion Map, a set of software, artificial intelligence algorithms, and machine-learning tools that the biotech uses to “explore foundational biology unconstrained by human bias.”

As  whole, the platform can be used to develop an “atlas” of biological connections across cell types that are involved in disease processes, and combines traditional wet-lab experiments with computational “dry-lab” modelling in a form of “digitised” drug discovery.

The data is fed into mathematical models to find new biological relationships that can be a starting point for discovering new therapeutics.

Roche and its Genentech unit are bringing single-cell perturbation screening data to the collaboration – a technique that is used to investigate how tweaking RNA and protein expression affects a cell’s function and behaviour.

None of Recursion’s current programmes in neuroscience and oncology are covered by the alliance, according to the company.

It currently has drugs in early-stage clinical testing for rare tumour-generating diseases neurofibromatosis type 2, cerebral cavernous malformation and familial adenomatous polyposis, as well as rare neurodegenerative disorder GM2 gangliosidosis.

“This collaboration highlights the potential of technology to transform drug discovery and unlock previously unknown insights into complex disease in an unbiased way,” said James Sabry, Roche’s global head of pharma partnering.

The pair of deals with two top tier pharma groups rounds off a stellar year for Recursion, with other highlights including a $500 million-plus initial public offering in April, which followed a $239 million fourth-round financing towards the end of 2020.

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