Recursion Pharmaceuticals is a computational biology company leveraging machine learning, automation, and cellular imaging to process and discover new drugs at a fraction of the time and cost of traditional drug development.
First-time CEO Chris Gibson hired Occam prior to series A funding. As is the case with most companies revolutionizing industry paradigms, success at Recursion had come by way of improvisatory and creative thinking. As the company scaled and grew by orders of magnitude, however, more structured thinking around operational discipline became essential. Occam was engaged to find a seasoned operational manager to provide a framework to facilitate communication between internal constituencies and instill accountability and process rigor—without stifling this creative ethos.
Chris later tasked Occam with hiring a Chief Scientific Officer to drive Recursion’s radical translational platform. While it had been relatively easy to attract talented, young technologists to a firm driven by computing and robotics, success would not have been possible without marrying this to more traditional drug development experience. The CSO role was the missing link connecting these two disparate worlds.
Drug development, data science, automation, and artificial intelligence are typically secular disciplines, so merging them fluidly presented intellectual and psychological challenges.
As a new modality, no one person had deep domain expertise across functions and, beyond this, there is a degree of resistance to the application of machine learning in life sciences. Identifying and converting talented people who could embrace ambiguity—but also see Recursion’s potential—required a leap of faith across a variety of dimensions.
Occam recruited Genentech veteran and biotech executive Tina Larson as COO. Tina and her family relocated from the Bay Area, a major biotech hub, to the relatively less evolved tech ecosystem of Salt Lake City, an expression of deep solidarity with the mission of Recursion. Tina’s success in the role resulted in the CEO elevating her to president, reflecting her status as a highly capable operator and confidante to Gibson.
The courtship and placement of the CSO, Sharath Hegde, Ph.D., was hard fought too. After nearly 20 years at Theravance, Sharath had proven himself a formidable drug development leader, having shepherded multiple programs from discovery through the clinic and into patients. And Occam encountered Sharath at a transformational point in his career where he was ready to embrace a radical change. Sharath believed that the incorporation of computing into the drug development process was the future, but he was reluctant to engage at first. Building rapport with Sharath led to him becoming receptive to a conversation with Gibson and ultimately considering a position at Recursion. Additionally, getting the CEO to see the full potency of Sharath’s virtues took time. Eliciting outside testimony from a trusted source revered by the CEO—speaking to Sharath’s substantial capabilities as an entrepreneurial drug developer and disciplined manager—allowed for a more fruitful dialogue between candidate and client, which ultimately set the stage for the successful placement of Sharath at Recursion.
With the CSO and COO in place, our next task was to bring on a Board member with deep ties to the capital markets in order to help position Recursion for a potential public offering. Occam successfully placed Terry-Ann Burrell, CFO and treasurer at Beam Therapeutics. Prior to Beam, Burrell spent 11 years with J.P. Morgan, most recently as a managing director in the healthcare investment banking group. There, she had broad coverage across the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, helping to execute over $10 billion in equity and equity-linked financings, and more than $50 billion in M&A transactions.
Recursion has since raised over $200 million in funding, established partnerships with leading pharmaceutical companies, and become the leader in this radical new arena.