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11 July, 2019 - 12:21 By Tony Quested

Ace drug inventor forms new discovery team at Healx

One of the UK’s most successful discoverers of new drugs of all time has joined Cambridge rare disease pioneer Healx to steer an exciting forensic initiative.

Formerly with Astex Pharmaceuticals and GSK, Dr Neil Thompson has been appointed chief scientific officer of Healx where he will build and lead a discovery team to take new drugs from prediction through to the clinical stage.

Dr Thompson has led discovery of over 10 drugs taken into clinical development, including two recent drugs from the Astex stable that have received marketing approval.

His new Healx team will harness the power of Artificial Intelligence to find fresh solutions for patients worldwide suffering from rare diseases for which treatments are unknown or currently don’t exist.

Dr Thompson has over 30 years of experience in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries and a strong background working across a breadth of disease areas. 

As well as progressing more than 10 drugs into patients he has led a number of drug discovery projects across a variety of therapeutic areas – such as cardiovascular, neurology, inflammation and oncology.

Dr Thompson was senior VP of Biology at Astex Pharmaceuticals for 15 years, leading the biology and pre-clinical teams whose work has resulted in two new cancer drugs reaching the market in the last two years – Kisqali (targeted for breast cancer) which came to market through Novartis in 2017; and Balversa (first targeted drug for bladder cancer) which gained market approval this year for J&J’s Janssen.

Since leaving Astex in 2017, Dr Thompson has been working as a consultant advising biotech companies from around the globe on their drug discovery and development strategies. 

His earlier career included Director of the Immunology Platform at multinational pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, where his area of primary responsibility was specialist cellular and molecular immunology employed in the drug development process.

He is deputy chair of the UK MRC DPFS panel and chair of the MRC CLD/ADI committee, has authored more than 40 publications and patents, and sits on the advisory boards of several scientific institutions in the UK.

Dr Thompson said: “Healx’s novel approach of using AI to start with the patient as opposed to a target, is what first drew me to the company. 

“I am excited to bring my experience to this leading AI-powered biotech that is helping patients with rare diseases. I am tremendously proud of the accomplishments to date, notably those I made during my time at Astex, and look forward to drawing on those experiences to build a team of dynamic, forward-thinking scientists, as we work to achieve our goal of progressing treatments to the clinic that can make a real difference to lives of patients.”

Dr Tim Guilliams, Healx’s co-founder and CEO added: “Healx is rapidly developing as a leading AI-powered biotech and I am pleased that Neil, who is a world-class drug discovery expert, will lead our drug discovery and development team. 

“Neil has an impressive track record in both large and smaller drug companies. With his expertise in drug discovery and extensive experience in leadership roles at successful organisations like Astex, he will be a major driver in building a pioneering team specialising in harnessing the power of AI and big data to discover treatments for rare diseases.”

The company’s Healnet technology integrates AI, deep pharmacology expertise and patient group insight to intelligently match treatments to rare diseases. 
This approach makes it possible to translate therapies into the clinic within 24 months, significantly reducing the time, cost and risk associated with traditional drug discovery methods. 

There are 7,000 known rare diseases that affect 350 million people worldwide. One in 17 people on the planet suffer from a rare disease. 
In aggregate, rare diseases are not rare, yet 95 per cent of these diseases still do not have an approved treatment. Healx aims to translate 100 rare disease treatments towards the clinic by 2025.

Healx was founded in 2014 by Dr Tim Guilliams, a bio-chemical engineer and founder of the Cambridge Rare Disease Network (CRDN) and Dr David Brown, the co-inventor of Viagra and ex-global head of drug discovery at Roche.

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