Healx use AI to treat Diseases: Raised $56M Series B
Healx, U.K.-based startup, using Artificial Intelligence to help discover novel treatments for rare diseases, has raised around $56 million funding.
Leading the round is a London-base VC firm Atomico, with participation by Intel Capital, Global Brain, & btov Partners. All the previous investors, including Balderton Capital, Amadeus Capital Partners, & Jonathan Milner, also followed on.
Healx said that the new financing will be used to develop the company’s therapeutic pipeline & and to launch its global Rare Treatment Accelerator program, which will partner with the patient groups in an attempt to make a rare disease drug discovery much more efficient.
More broadly, the aim of this is to discover new treatments & to move them toward the clinic within 24 months, which is significantly very faster than the status quo.
Considering the fact, there are over 7,000 rare diseases discovered affecting 400 million people worldwide where at least 50% of them are children. Of these rare diseases, 95% still lack an approved treatment today said Healx co-founder & CEO Dr. Tim Guilliams tells TechCrunch.
The traditional model of discovery & clinical development of new medicines is very expensive in terms of the costs, timelines & efficacy. To bring a new drug to the market typically costs around $2-3 billion, takes up to 12-14 years to develop & has a 95% failure rate.
Specifically, Guilliams says that the current model does not work for diseases that have a small patient population, as the return on investments from drug sales simply won’t work with the discovery & development costs being so high. He added that what currently needed is a “radical change of course” by using Artificial Intelligence to discover alternative uses for the existing drugs.
And by focusing on approved drugs &harnessing the power of AI Haelx has been able to make this rare disease drug discovery process a faster one & more efficient one, he claimed. he added that they made it their mission to progress around 100 rare disease treatments towards the clinic by the year 2025.
Of course, applying Artificial Intelligence technology to drug discovery is not unique to Healx & nor are the challenges in doing so. The BenevolentAI, for example, has grabbed lots of headlines worldwide, most recently reported having its valuation cut. Guilliams said Healx is taking a different approach than the other similar companies in the space, which also includes Recursion Pharmaceuticals & Insilico Medicine.
Guilliams added that their focus and approach are quite different. They mainly focus on rare genetic diseases & have the world’s leading biomedical knowledge graph for rare diseases. He said that they don’t develop new molecules, they are trying to maximize the value of already-approved drugs.
In addition, Guilliams said that Healx’s technology is data-driven & “hypothesis-free,” which is very different from traditional target-based drug discovery. He added that they are able to predict drug combinations & translate them very fast in the clinic. They work extremely closely with patient groups, as strategic partners & disease experts he said
Dr. David Brown, the co-founder of Healx, has invented several drugs that have made it to the market (including being one of Viagra’s inventors). These have turned over of around $40 billion in revenue, says Guilliams.
Healx claims to have validated their innovative model with the FRAXA Research Foundation. Fragile X syndrome is a leading genetic cause of autism and it was told that there are no approved treatments for the diseases. That could be about to change with Healx & FRAXA who are set to soon launch early clinical trials to test multiple treatment combinations. Further clinical programs for other rare diseases will begin later in the year 2020.
Atomico principle Irina Haivas was asked what attracted her to the investment & how she views the risks that are associated with backing a company like Healx, given it is trying to find a needle in a haystack (drug discovery) & also needs to commercialize those discoveries. In simple words, there are a lot of unknowns & also needs a very long time to market.
Irina Haivas said one of the reasons she chose to join Atomico is precise because Atomico is not afraid to make these sorts of bold, long-term bets knowing that if it works then Healx company will dramatically improve the lives of 400 million people around the world living with a rare disease, she added. She said that it is a bold step to use AI to solve this ‘big search’ problem better than how humans traditionally did. However, the ultimate proof of all these will be getting the treatment to market.
With that said, Haivas also cautions that startups like Healx are creating a new category of companies. That is because these companies are neither traditional tech nor traditional biopharma.
She further added that they will need a different framework to work from an investor perspective and some investors will take time to get comfortable with that, added the surgeon-turned-VC.
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