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Healx lands $10m Series A to accelerate drug discovery

Cambridge-based HealthTech company Healx has closed a healthy $10m (£7.6m) Series A funding round.

The round was led by Balderton Capital, Europe’s early-stage venture investor. Existing investors, Jonathan Milner and Amadeus Capital, also participated.

The tech company is using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to develop treatments for rare diseases and cut down the time it takes to take the drug to market.

Healx has built Healnet; one of the world’s most comprehensive databases for disease, which has mapped more than a billion data points that connect diseases, patients and drugs. Healnet uses machine learning to mine data from scientific literature, patents, clinical trials, disease symptoms, drug targets, and underlying chemical structures.

The company was founded in 2014 by Dr David Brown, the inventor of Viagra, Dr Tim Guilliams, a biochemical Engineer and founder of the Cambridge Rare Disease Network and Dr Andreas Bender, a lecturer and researcher at Cambridge University’s Centre for Molecular Sciences Informatics.

CEO Tim Guilliams explained: “Healx has a simple but profound goal: To transform the lives of rare disease patients. Our technology helps us find treatments where none currently exist

“Our proven approach is to start from existing drugs and apply artificial intelligence to niche disease populations, working with patient groups to accelerate treatment development. Our success comes from our world-class multi-disciplinary team of experts, leveraging cutting-edge artificial intelligence techniques to cut the discovery-to-treatment time from years to months,” he added.

Healx’s technology is currently being used in collaboration with FRAXA, the patient group for the Fragile-X Syndrome. A drug for Fragile-X that was discovered by Healx’s platform was ready for the clinic in less than 15 months, cutting typical drug development timelines by 80%, the company state, whilst also slashing costs.   

David Brown explained how tech can help in disease treatment: “The traditional drug discovery process takes 10 to 15 years at a cost of $2 billion per new drug and with a failure rate of 95 per cent – it’s broken, it’s slow, it’s high failure, and it’s not economic for rare diseases.

“However, today’s technology can change that and help 350 million under-served rare disease patients. Healx is showing that we can massively transform the rate of discovery of new medicines, reducing timelines and costs,” he added.

The $10m investment will be used to double Healx’s team of software engineers, data scientists, pharmacologists and drug development experts and to expand its technologies.

Suranga Chandratillake, partner at Balderton Capital, explained how key AI is: “Historically, the pharmaceutical industry has focused on what is the same about everyone, building blockbuster drugs that affect large groups of people. The future of medicine will focus on what is different about everyone, personalising treatment and taking the individual into context.

“The first frontier of this exciting new direction for medicine is rare disease and the only way it can be solved is by using automation to deliver a step-change in the volume of discovery that is possible. Healx’s Healnet platform, at the forefront of this shift, is already delivering value and Balderton is excited to have the opportunity to be part of the company’s journey.”

Healx has so far focused on finding new uses for existing drugs and their application in potential combination therapies, rather than finding new drugs entirely.

Applying this strategy within the context of rare disease has allowed Healx to further improve speed to market – existing drugs require fewer and less complex trials and laws such as the Orphan Drug Act encourages research and development of therapies for rare disease.