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Recursion Pharmaceuticals accelerates drug discovery with Google Cloud

Despite advances in scientific research and medical technology, the process of drug discovery has become increasingly slower and more expensive over the last decade. While the pharmaceutical industry has spent more money on research and development each year, this has not resulted in an increase in the number of FDA-approved new medicines. Recursion, headquartered in Salt Lake City, is looking to address this declining productivity by combining rich biological datasets with the latest in machine learning to reinvent the drug discovery and development process.

Today, Recursion has selected Google Cloud as their primary public cloud provider as they build a drug discovery platform that combines chemistry, automated biology, and cloud computing to reveal new therapeutic candidates, potentially cutting the time to discover and develop a new medicine by a factor of 10.

In order to fulfill their mission, Recursion developed a data pipeline that incorporates image processing, inference engines and deep learning modules, supporting bursts of computational power that weigh in at trillions of calculations per second. In just under two years, Recursion has created hundreds of disease models, generated a shortlist of drug candidates across several diseases, and advanced drug candidates into the human testing phase for two diseases.

Starting with wet biology—plates of glass-bottom wells containing thousands of healthy and diseased human cells—biologists run experiments on the cells, applying stains that help characterize and quantify the features of the cellular samples: their roundness, the thickness of their membrane, the shape of their mitochondria, and other characteristics. Automated microscopes capture this data by snapping high-resolution photos of the cells at several different light wavelengths. The data pipeline, which sits on top of Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE) and Confluent Kafka, all running on GCP, extracts and analyzes cellular features from the images. Then, data are processed by deep neural networks to find patterns, including those humans might not recognize. The neural nets are trained to compare healthy and diseased cell signatures with those of cells before and after a variety of drug treatments. This process yields promising new potential therapeutics.

To train its deep learning models, Recursion uses on-premises GPUs, then they use GCP CPUs to perform inference on new images in the pipeline using these models. Recursion is currently evaluating cloud-based alternatives including using Cloud TPU technology to accelerate and automate image processing. Since Recursion is already using TensorFlow to train its neural networks in its proprietary biological domains, Cloud TPUs are a natural fit. Additionally, Recursion is exploring using GKE On-Prem, the foundation of Cloud Services Platform, to manage all of their Kubernetes clusters from a single, easy-to-use console.

We’re thrilled to collaborate with Recursion in their quest to more rapidly and inexpensively discover new medicines for dozens of diseases, both rare and common. Learn more about how Recursion is using Google Cloud solutions to better execute its mission of “decoding biology to radically improve lives” here. You can also learn more about solutions for life sciences organizations and our Google Cloud for Startups Program.