It Takes More Than Tech to Redefine a Trillion Dollar Category

Recursion Pharmaceuticals’ performance is also driven by an ambitious purpose, a values-driven culture, and the Silicon Slopes. Here’s a look at the people behind the progress

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Photos by Kevin Gilbert

In July 2018, one of the first machine learning-discovered compounds was approved by the FDA for phase one clinical trials targeting cerebral cavernous malformation, a genetic disease affecting 1.5 million people domestically. The team behind it at Recursion Pharmaceuticals — with the broadest ML-discovered drug pipeline in the world — didn’t stop to celebrate, seeing this simply as a first step in fulfilling its mission: to discover new treatments for 100 diseases by 2025.

Recruiting chief Brooke Clarke, center above.

Big problems attracting big talent

She wasn’t looking for a new job when Brooke Clark first learned about Recursion. “You have to hear about this company,” a friend told her at a dinner party. After meeting with co-founders Chris Gibson and Blake Borgeson “I was sold,” she said. Brooke is now director of talent, and some might say, chief evangelist.

“It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had and the easiest job I’ve ever had. It’s easy to be passionate about this company.”

She continues: “We attract people who have a pioneering adventurous spirit. They’re interested in us because of the absolute, direct impact they can make…and motivated to join us because of the problem we’re trying to solve. That’s what drives them. They’re passing up companies that are [in businesses like] advertising optimization — they want to solve a problem that’s going to help treat sick people instead.”

Silicon Slopes in their back yard and strong culture on their side

Recursion is now luring industry titans like Tina Larson away from companies like Roche and Genentech, located in tier one cities such as San Francisco. This is no small feat given their location: Salt Lake City.

Drilling down beneath the surface, it isn’t so surprising.

The attraction is due in large part to Recursion’s mission and culture, but also because of what the region has to offer: access to the Wasatch Mountains, along with a demonstrably lower cost of living. Salt Lake City has quickly become a tech hub, now dubbed Silicon Slopes — where according to Brooke, “The business climate is good and the slopes are even better.”

And the values of the company — be passionate, do things well, communicate openly, share your ideas, ask why, and back it up with data — permeates all that they do. “On a daily basis you have to be prepared for someone to ask you ‘why’ to pressure test your ideas,” she explains.

The environment that combines teamwork with challenging one another makes magic happen.

With $150 billion spent on R&D in the pharmaceutical industry and only a handful of new drugs approved annually, Recursion is aiming to flip drug discovery on its ear harnessing a combination of big data, plummeting costs to analyze that data, and deep learning inferences. Their application of artificial intelligence and automation is now leading to drug discovery at unprecedented pace. Over the long term, Recursion’s technology platform can be expanded to identify potential targets or therapeutics for any disease that can be modeled in human cells.

And with a pipeline that includes 30 programs in various disease states, this team is just getting started.