Billing it­self as the first AI biotech to launch hu­man tri­als, Re­cur­sion adds $121M C round

Chris Gib­son

Billing it­self as the first AI biotech with pro­grams in the clin­ic, Salt Lake City-based Re­cur­sion now has a $121 mil­lion bankroll to start gath­er­ing hu­man da­ta to see if it’s on the right track. 

“We’re try­ing to build this dis­cov­ery en­gine,” Re­cur­sion CEO Chris Gib­son tells me ahead of the C round news. “We now have the first two pro­grams in the clin­ic.” And that, he adds, qual­i­fies as a first for any AI es­tab­lish­ment “that ac­tu­al­ly have some­thing in the clin­ic.”

Well, maybe. 

While a buzzy AI field is billed by many as the next big tech wave bound to in­flu­ence the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and de­vel­op­ment of new drugs, tap­ping in­to a grow­ing moun­tain of da­ta to find clues on where and how to look for new drugs, Re­cur­sion’s two lead pro­grams fit more in line with long-es­tab­lished drug de­vel­op­ment norms.

Dean Li

Gib­son read­i­ly con­cedes that one of his 2 clin­i­cal stage drugs, REC-994 for cere­bral cav­ernous mal­for­ma­tion, came out of the lab of co-founder Dean Li, now head of trans­la­tion­al re­search at Mer­ck. REC-2282 for neu­rofi­bro­mato­sis type 2 was in-li­censed from Ohio State some months ago, af­ter a failed Arno sim­ply hand­ed it back to the uni­ver­si­ty fol­low­ing their de­ci­sion to liq­ui­date. It’s not hard to find the drug via Google, and the ear­li­er work done in neu­rofi­bro­mato­sis in 2011.

That may not be a clas­sic AI/ma­chine learn­ing play, says Gib­son, but it does re­flect the com­pa­ny’s abil­i­ty when it comes to what he calls “da­ta ar­bi­trage.” 

“Most of the in­dus­try has thought of AI dis­cov­ery, mak­ing some chem­i­cal struc­ture,” says the CEO. “We don’t need to know the tar­get; we use our plat­form to find ap­pli­ca­tions that peo­ple wouldn’t ex­pect.”

And he says he’s built a work­force of 152 — mas­sive by start­up stan­dards — to cre­ate a plat­form that does com­ply more close­ly with what we’ve come to ex­pect in an AI/ML biotech.

Says Gib­son: “Now that the com­pa­ny has grown we are now do­ing com­pu­ta­tion­al chem­istry.”

Gib­son is quick to tout the high­lights of the biotech’s fast growth; from the rapid ad­di­tion of new staffers, their 100,000-square-foot fa­cil­i­ty in a con­vert­ed Dick’s Sport­ing Goods fa­cil­i­ty in down­town Salt Lake City and an op­tion from Take­da on can­di­dates for 2 rare dis­eases.

The new mon­ey in the C round an­nounced to­day comes from a host of non­tra­di­tion­al biotech in­vestors. Bail­lie Gif­ford’s Scot­tish Mort­gage In­vest­ment Trust led the round, with In­ter­moun­tain Ven­tures, Re­gents of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta, Texas Tech Uni­ver­si­ty Sys­tem, and se­lect an­gel in­vestors com­ing in for the first time. All pri­or in­sti­tu­tion­al in­vestors par­tic­i­pat­ed, in­clud­ing Lux Cap­i­tal, Da­ta Col­lec­tive, Mubadala Ven­tures, Two Sig­ma Ven­tures, Ob­vi­ous Ven­tures, Fe­li­cis Ven­tures, Epic Ven­tures, Men­lo Ven­tures, AME Cloud Ven­tures, and CRV.

So­cial im­age: In­tel­li­gent Health AI via Youtube

Brian Kaspar. AveXis via Twitter

AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder fires back at No­var­tis CEO Vas Narasimhan, 'cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly de­nies any wrong­do­ing'

Brian Kaspar’s head was among the first to roll at Novartis after company execs became aware of the fact that manipulated data had been included in its application for Zolgensma, now the world’s most expensive therapy.

But in his first public response, the scientific founder at AveXis — acquired by Novartis for $8.7 billion — is firing back. And he says that not only was he not involved in any wrongdoing, he’s ready to defend his name as needed.

I reached out to Brian Kaspar after Novartis put out word that he and his brother Allen had been axed in mid-May, two months after the company became aware of the allegations related to manipulated data. His response came back through his attorneys.

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UP­DAT­ED: An em­bold­ened As­traZeneca splurges $95M on a pri­or­i­ty re­view vouch­er. Where do they need the FDA to hus­tle up?

AstraZeneca is in a hurry.

We learned this morning that the pharma giant — not known as a big spender, until recently — forked over $95 million to get its hands on a priority review voucher from Sobi, otherwise known as Swedish Orphan Biovitrum.

That marks another step down on price for a PRV, which allows the holder to slash 4 months off of any FDA review time.

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Martin Shkreli [via Getty]

Pris­on­er #87850-053 does not get to add drug de­vel­op­er to his list of cred­its

Just days after Retrophin shed its last ties to founder Martin Shkreli, the biotech is reporting that the lead drug he co-invented flopped in a pivotal trial. Fosmetpantotenate flunked both the primary and key secondary endpoints in a placebo-controlled trial for a rare disease called pantothenate kinase-associated neurodegeneration, or PKAN.

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We­bi­nar: Re­al World End­points — the brave new world com­ing in build­ing fran­chise ther­a­pies

Several biopharma companies have been working on expanding drug labels through the use of real world endpoints, combing through the data to find evidence of a drug’s efficacy for particular indications. But we’ve just begun. Real World Evidence is becoming an important part of every clinical development plan, in the soup-through-nuts approach used in building franchises.

I’ve recruited a panel of 3 top experts in the field — the first in a series of premium webinars — to look at the practical realities governing what can be done today, and where this is headed over the next few years, at the prodding of the FDA.

ZHEN SU — Merck Serono’s Senior Vice President and Global Head of Oncology
ELLIOTT LEVY — Amgen’s Senior Vice President of Global Development
CHRIS BOSHOFF — Pfizer Oncology’s Chief Development Officer

A premium subscription to Endpoints News is required to attend this webinar. Please upgrade to either an Insider or Enterprise plan for access. Already have Endpoints Premium? Please sign-in below. You can contact our Subscriptions team at with any issues.

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Am­gen, Al­ler­gan biosim­i­lar of Roche's block­buster Rit­ux­an clears an­oth­er US piv­otal study 

Novartis $NVS may have given up, but Amgen $AMGN and Allergan $AGN are plowing ahead with their knockoff of Roche’s blockbuster biologic Rituxan in the United States.

Their copycat, ABP 798, was found to have a clinically equivalent impact as Rituxan — meeting the main goal of the study involving CD20-positive B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients. This is the second trial supporting the profile of the biosimilar. In January, it came through with positive PK results in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

BeiGene and Mus­tang nail down spe­cial FDA sta­tus for top drugs; Roche bags added cov­er­age for Hem­li­bra

→ BeiGene $BGNE is getting a boost in its drive to field a rival to Imbruvica. The FDA has offered an accelerated review to zanubrutinib, a BTK inhibitor that has posted positive results for mantle cell lymphoma. The PDUFA date lands on February 27, 2020. The drug scored breakthrough status at the beginning of the year.

→ BeiGene isn’t the only biopharma company to gain special regulatory status today. Mustang Bio $MBIO and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital announced that MB-107, a lentiviral gene therapy for the treatment of X-linked severe combined immunodeficiency, also known as bubble boy disease, has been granted Regenerative Medicine Advanced Therapy status.

Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion re­vives bid to get drug list prices on TV ads

The Trump administration is not giving up just yet. On Wednesday, the HHS filed an appeal against a judge’s decision in July to overturn a ruling obligating drug manufacturers to disclose the list price of their therapies in television adverts — hours before it was stipulated to go into effect.

In May, the HHS published a final ruling requiring drugmakers to divulge the wholesale acquisition cost— of a 30-day supply of the drug — in tv ads in a bid to enhance price transparency in the United States. The pharmaceutical industry has vehemently opposed the rule, asserting that list prices are not what a typical patient in the United States pays for treatment — that number is typically determined by the type of (or lack thereof) insurance coverage, deductibles and out-of-pocket costs. Although there is truth to that claim, the move was considered symbolic in the Trump administration’s healthcare agenda to hold drugmakers accountable in a climate where skyrocketing drug prices have incensed Americans on both sides of the aisle.

Bob Smith, Pfizer

Pfiz­er is mak­ing a $500M state­ment to­day: Here’s how you be­come a lead play­er in the boom­ing gene ther­a­py sec­tor

Three years ago, Pfizer anted up $150 million in cash to buy Bamboo Therapeutics in Chapel Hill, NC as it cautiously stuck a toe in the small gene therapy pool of research and development.

Company execs followed up a year later with a $100 million expansion of the manufacturing operations they picked up in that deal for the UNC spinout, which came with $495 million in milestones.

And now they’re really going for it.

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Video: Putting the AI in R&D — with Badhri Srini­vasan, Tony Wood, Rosana Kapeller, Hugo Ceule­mans, Saurabh Sa­ha and Shoibal Dat­ta

During BIO this year, I had a chance to moderate a panel among some of the top tech experts in biopharma on their real-world use of artificial intelligence in R&D. There’s been a lot said about the potential of AI, but I wanted to explore more about what some of the larger players are actually doing with this technology today, and how they see it advancing in the future. It was a fascinating exchange, which you can see here. The transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity. — John Carroll