Scaling up Drug Discovery

Advanced computational methods such as machine learning (ML) are transforming the drug discovery process at an unprecedented scale. To supplement our internal research efforts and to stay at the leading edge of the ML field, Genentech and Roche are joining forces with talented partners that have unique expertise in this area. One of these partners is Recursion.

In December 2021, Genentech and Roche’s R&D organizations entered into a collaboration with Recursion to explore uncharted territories of cell biology and drug target discovery. The partnership is leveraging Recursion’s technology-enabled drug discovery platform in combination with our extensive single-cell data generation and ML capabilities to cast a wide, comprehensive net for novel drug targets, and advance and expedite the development of new small molecule medicines in key areas of neuroscience and a specific area of oncology.

"We were thrilled at the chance to join forces with these formidable organizations to reveal new insights into areas of very complex biology and intractable diseases of high unmet medical need," says Shafique Virani, Chief Business Officer, Recursion. “In less than a year, we have made remarkable progress towards generating the first whole-genome map of human cellular biology for an oncology indication of interest and the goal is to create similar maps of relevance to neuroscience in the future. Combining Recursion's image-based maps, Roche and Genentech’s single-cell profiling data, and jointly-developed ML algorithms, together we will be able to look even deeper into human cellular biology providing more insights on important disease targets and molecules."

“The scale of this project is almost unheard of,” says Casper Hoogenraad, Vice President and Head of Neuroscience in Genentech’s Research and Early Development (gRED) organization. “We are screening libraries of small molecules in parallel with genetic perturbations and RNA profiling approaches, so we’ll have an immediate path forward with potential medicines, which is a decisive benefit. There is a lot of risk involved in pursuing novel targets because we just don’t know enough about the underlying biology. Getting more confidence about targets and potential treatments would be a huge leap forward in neuroscience and other disease areas.”

"As we continue to push the boundaries of drug discovery, we need new approaches that allow us to ask questions beyond single targets or biological pathways. We need to understand how numerous potential drug targets work together to drive disease," says Azad Bonni, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Neuroscience & Rare Diseases, Roche Pharma Research & Early Development (pRED).

Genentech and Roche’s partnership with Recursion exemplifies the power of leveraging large-scale data using advanced computational methods, and the possibilities that come to fruition when several organizations work together.

“Through collaborations, we maximize the opportunity to nucleate and advance novel insights towards medicines,” said Barbara Lueckel, Head of Research Technologies, Roche Pharma Partnering. “Combining technologies and expertise allows for a much deeper understanding of biology and drug discovery otherwise not possible. Partnerships also open the door to diversity of thought — critical for the continued advancement of a field as complex as neuroscience.”