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10 October, 2019 - 21:22 By Tony Quested

Healx and ICR to develop AI-derived treatments for rare childhood cancer

Cambridge-based Healx, which uses AI to repurpose drugs to fight rare diseases, has forged an important new partnership to help combat a rare childhood cancer.

It has unveiled a collaboration with scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research, London (ICR) to discover new possible ways of treating diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), a life-limiting childhood brain cancer for which no treatments currently exist.

The ICR is an internationally-renowned research centre in the study of childhood cancers, including in DIPG. Healx will work closely with the ICR’s Professor Chris Jones – a world-leading figure in the study of DIPG – to progress a number of potential new treatment options for the disease.

To identify these possible new treatments, Healx is using its AI-powered drug discovery platform, Healnet, which features the world’s most comprehensive knowledge graph of rare disease data.

Healnet works by mining proprietary and public data from scientific literature, clinical trials and patents – among other sources. 

This unique knowledge graph of rare disease data is then interrogated by the company’s AI algorithms and team of pharmacology experts to identify the most promising treatments for a given disease.

By combining the latest in AI and machine learning techniques with critical insight from an in-house team of pharmacologists and drug discovery experts, Healx has been able to predict which existing drugs, already used in other diseases, might be repurposed to treat DIPG.

Professor Jones is now planning to research these drugs in the laboratory to work out if they could be used as treatments.

This innovative, AI-based approach has previously been used, in partnership with childhood cancer charity, aPODD, to successfully identify potential new treatments for rare cancers.

Outside of the rare cancer space Healx has also had success using its technology to predict and progress new treatments for fragile X syndrome towards Phase  2A clinical trial phase within just 24 months.

Healx is optimistic that, in combining its technological capabilities with the ICR’s expertise in the field of cancer research, this collaboration will lead to the development of effective, new treatments that will positively impact the lives of the 150-300 patients who are diagnosed with this severely life-limiting condition each year in the US alone.

Dr Neil Thompson, chief scientific officer at Healx, said: “I am excited to be collaborating with the ICR, one of the world’s leading cancer research organisations. 

“The expertise that Dr Chris Jones and his team bring to childhood brain cancers, and DIPG in particular, is invaluable to an organisation looking to help patients with this rare disease.

“We hope that by combining this with our ground-breaking AI technology, pharmacology expertise and comprehensive rare disease knowledge graph, we can accelerate the discovery and development of new treatments for this devastating disease.”

Chris Jones, Professor of Paediatric Brain Tumour Biology at the ICR, said: “We’re very pleased to be partnering with Healx in the development of potential new treatments for DIPG, a cancer with an average life expectancy of just nine months. 

“We welcome Healx to a community of researchers, partners, donors and families who are determined to find new ways of treating this devastating disease.”

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