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16 October, 2019 - 10:44 By Tony Quested

Healx raises $66m in a year

Cambridge business Healx, which is leveraging AI technology to repurpose drugs to treat the planet’s rarest diseases, has raised $56 million in a Series B round backed by Japanese and European investors – taking its haul in the last 12 months to around $66m.

The blockbusting new haul is led by one of Europe’s largest VC firms Atomico which is headquartered in London with offices in Beijing, Istanbul, São Paulo, Stockholm and Tokyo. Its founder and CEO is Niklas Zennström, a serial entrepreneur who co-founded Skype and Kazaa.

The raise has been joined by Tokyo-based Global Brain and btov Partners which has offices in Berlin, Luxembourg, Munich and St. Gallen in Switzerland.

All previous investors including Balderton Capital, Amadeus Capital Partners and Cambridge UK serial entrepreneur Jonathan Milner also participated. The money will be used to develop the company’s therapeutic pipeline and launch its unique global Rare Treatment Accelerator programme.

Founder and CEO Dr Tim Guilliams still has to pinch himself at the meteoric rise of the fledgling venture he launched in 2014 with high hopes but no little trepidation.

He said: “As a first-time founder/CEO coming straight from university with a background in biophysics, it was a pretty steep learning curve. The first 18 months were tough – no salary and the prospect of fundraising was pretty daunting. 

“However, there is no better place than Cambridge to start your entrepreneurial journey and get the right support. I was incredibly fortunate to have met my co-founder David Brown early on. 

“Serial entrepreneurs Jonathan Milner and Darrin Disley along with Hanadi Jabado at Cambridge Judge Business School were also close mentors from the very beginning. It made all the difference. It is absolutely essential that you learn from people who have done it before.

“Strangely enough, we didn’t start the company to make money and still haven’t written a business plan! We just had a very strong and simple mission from the start – to accelerate treatments for rare diseases. 

“That objective remains the North Star for the company today and has been the driving force behind our progress.”

Dr Guilliams highlights two critical turning points in the fortunes of the company – firstly when Jonathan Milner and Hermann Hauser agreed to back the business and then when Healx received the positive pre-clinical results for the combination therapy that its AI platform predicted for Fragile X Syndrome. 

Dr Guilliams says: “This drug combination is now ready for a pivotal phase 2a clinical trial. We then knew that our AI platform was working and that our approach could discover rare disease treatments at a fraction of the time and cost. Now it is all about scaling our therapeutic pipeline and patient impact. We are so excited about the next phase.”

Healx now employs 41 people but headcount is set to grow to 80 within 15 months; in terms of physical presence Guilliams plans “to keep it lean.”

The headquarters will remain in Cambridge but Healx already has employees in the US, Greece, Spain and Scotland – among other places. 

Guilliams says: “We want to work with the best people, no matter where they are based. As a virtual company, all of the lab work is outsourced which makes it much easier to manage.”

The traditional drug discovery model takes more than a decade and can run into the billions of dollars, Healx’s AI-driven approach makes the process faster, more efficient and more cost-effective.

With the launch of the Rare Treatment Accelerator, Healx and partnering patient groups will be able to scale the impact of this approach by leveraging the power of AI and combining their​ knowledge, information and expertise so that together they can discover new treatments and move them towards the clinic within 24 months. ​

Patient communities can apply to join the Rare Treatment Accelerator online at www.healx.io/rare-treatment-accelerator​.

The company previously validated this innovative model with the FRAXA Research Foundation. Fragile X syndrome is the leading genetic cause of autism. 

There are currently no approved treatments for the disease, but as a result of their collaboration, Healx and FRAXA will soon be launching promising clinical trials to test multiple treatment combinations. Further clinical programmes for other rare diseases are set to start later in 2020.

Healx’s mission is to advance 100 rare disease treatments towards the clinic by 2025. Healnet,​ Healx’s AI platform, delivers data-driven treatment predictions, which shortens the discovery-to-clinic timeline to as little as 24 months. 

It is the world’s leading AI platform on rare diseases and integrates scientific literature, clinical trial results and proprietary data in the form of a biomedical knowledge graph, pinpointing the potential therapeutic relationships between drugs and diseases. 

Healx’s multidisciplinary team of rare disease and drug development experts work in concert with Healnet to identify and validate the most promising treatments for a given disease.

Dr Guilliams, said: “The size of the Series B financing, especially so quickly after our Series A round last year, is an endorsement of the value of our platform and the pace at which we have developed. 

“The trials for our fragile X treatments are just the start of the impact we believe our technology is capable of having on drug discovery. Rare diseases affect over 400 million patients worldwide. Of the 7,000 rare diseases known today, 95 per cent are still without an approved treatment.

“To date it’s been families and patient groups who have had to become experts in the diseases affecting their loved ones and have often been the ones driving forward the efforts into finding new treatments. 

“With our unique combination of in-house R & D, industry collaborations and now the Rare Treatment Accelerator, we look forward to supporting these groups in their mission.”

Distinguished board members include co-founder and deputy chairman of Abcam plc Jonathan Milner; Shaun Grady, who is responsible for global business development at AstraZeneca and Suranga Chandratillake from Balderton Capital alongside David Brown and Dr Guilliams.

• PHOTOGRAPH: Healx founder and CEO Dr Tim Guilliams with co-founder and chairman, Dr David Brown.

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