Healx raises £8m for rare disease platform
Machine learning and AI speed up research
Healx, the Cambridge-based firm dedicated to finding treatments for rare diseases where none currently exists, has raised $10million in a $10million funding round led by early-stage investor Balderton Capital. Existing investors Jonathan Milner and Amadeus Capital Partners also participated.
Healx’s platform is HealNet, “one of the world’s most comprehensive knowledgebases for rare disease, mapping over one billion unique disease, patient and drug interactions”. The platform is built and maintained using machine learning to go through “scientific literature, patents, clinical trials, disease symptoms, multi-omic data and underlying chemical structures”.
“The rare disease market is the fastest-growing,” says founder and CEO Dr Tim Guilliams, “and the reason is the need is so big. There’s 350 million people in the world affected by rare diseases and 95 per cent don’t have access to an approved treatment.
“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.”
Where pharma has taken years to test drugs, machine learning and AI can do most of the work in a fraction of the time. Pharma firms take over when the possibilities for treatments become apparent: healx is currently “working with pharma partners who we can’t disclose but we will soon”, said CSO Dr David Brown. The timing depends on licesnse deals being signed off.
The company was founded in 2014 by Dr Tim Guilliams, a bio-chemical engineer and founder of the Cambridge Rare Disease Network, and Dr Brown, the inventor of Viagra and ex-global head of drug discovery at Roche, plus Dr Andreas Bender, a lecturer and researcher at Cambridge University’s Centre for Molecular Sciences Informatics.
“I’ve been involved in getting a lot of drugs through clinical trials and this is four or five times faster than any I’ve been in before,” said Dr Brown of progress so far.
Dr Matt Might, rare disease parent, professor of internal medicine, professor of computer science, and director of Hugh Kaul Precision Medicine Institute, University of Alabama, said: “What is exciting about Healx is the enormous potential of HealNet. While other companies have built one-off AI systems to analyse a smaller number of fixed datasets as part of a broader drug discovery process, Healx is building a long-term platform that is capable of incorporating data from every conceivable source and using that to build an overall understanding of patients, diseases and drugs. The company has already shown the fruits of this asset for a number of diseases and this next round of funding will allow them to apply it to a significantly larger number of diseases.”
Healx, whose 25 staff consists of 80 per cent bioinformaticians, is based at Castle Hill.