Utah biotech startup Recursion Pharmaceuticals is upending the realm of clinical-stage drug research, melding robot-driven automation with digital artificial intelligence on a mission to revolutionize how new medications are developed to battle some of the rarest and most challenging of human medical conditions.

And the company has been on an absolute tear in the last year, raising over $500 million via a public stock offering in April, expanding its footprint with a new research facility in Toronto and growing its staff by over 60%. It also has four medications currently in clinical trials.

Recursion was founded in 2013 and outgrew two facilities at University of Utah’s Research Park before taking over a 100,000-plus-square-foot space in downtown’s Gateway center, the former home of Dick’s Sporting Goods. This week, the company announced it will double the footprint of its flagship research and office facility, signing a lease on an additional 100,000 square feet of space at The Gateway.

Recursion President and Chief Operating Officer Tina Larson said the new real estate will help accommodate the company’s plans to continue growing its capacity and current staff of 270.

“Recursion is a pioneer in the emerging field of technology-enabled drug discovery,” Larson said in a statement. “To deliver on our mission we have grown our world-class team of scientists, engineers, clinicians and company builders by more than 60% in the last year.

“Expanding our laboratory footprint will allow us to grow our proprietary biological dataset even faster and add several novel capabilities in biology and chemistry research.”

A cellular experiment image from Recursion Pharmaceuticals. The company just announced plans to double its 100,000-square-foot headquarters in downtown Salt Lake City. | Recursion Pharmaceuticals

The company said it currently has over 100 unfilled positions and is likely to add at least that many new employees in the coming year. In addition to Salt Lake City, Recursion has operations in Milpitas, California and plans in place for additional facilities in Toronto and Montreal.

Recursion’s innovative approach began as the core of doctoral research performed by company co-founder and CEO Chris Gibson at the University of Utah. The method relies on automating the once human-intensive process of peering through a microscope to assess if a chemical compound’s impact on a diseased cell is having a positive effect or advancing it toward being a healthy cell.

In a 2018 Deseret News profile of the company, Larson explained that Recursion has developed a technique to take a sample cell representing a genetic disorder and test it against the effects of hundreds of thousands of chemical compounds in a process that automates the visual evaluations and data gathering to allow for a lot of testing, in a very short period of time.

“We look at a disease we’re interested in against every chemical we can access,” Larson said. “We have so much robotics we can run hundreds of thousands of experiments very quickly in a way that you can’t do with traditional biology.”

Recursion Pharma takes high-tech approach to drug discovery

The advanced automation identifies “hits” or impacts from particular chemical compounds on diseased cells that show promising results. Once identified, the Recursion team can hone in and pursue furthering the results through modifications to the compound.

Lux Capital, based in New York City and Menlo Park, California, was an early Recursion investor, participating in a $60 million round of funding for the company in 2017. Zavain Dar, a principal with Lux, said a former Stanford graduate school classmate of his put the company on Lux’s radar in 2016 and when he looked into it, he was “wildly impressed” with Recursion’s approach.

“Their process is exceptionally intelligent,” Dar said in 2018. “It removes human hubris and bias from the equation ... a factor that’s plagued preclinical drug discovery research for decades now.”

Dar noted the company’s innovation is entirely new and taking advantage of automation, wet-lab and machine learning advances that have put Recursion years ahead of its competition and “gone well above and beyond what anyone thought was possible.” Dar also believes the approach Recursion is developing could lead to compressing the time it takes to identify and bring a new drug to market from a decade-plus into the range of three to five years.

And Lux Capital has not been alone in its bullish stance on Recursion’s potential. Before entering the public markets this spring, Recursion had attracted over $460 million in venture investments, according to tech data aggregator Crunchbase.

At the end of regular trading on Friday, Recursion stock (RXRX) was trading at $36.50 per share on the Nasdaq exchange, earning the company a market capitalization of just over $6 billion.