Cambridge health-tech start-up, Healx uses machine learning and advanced analytics to identify new uses for existing drugs in the fight against rare diseases that affect around 350 million around the world. It closed its series A funding round with investment from global technology investor, Amadeus Capital Partners, alongside healthcare entrepreneur, Jonathan Milner.
Healx, founded and based in Cambridge, operates in the fast-growing drug ‘repurposing’ sector. The company uses a blend of advanced data analytics, machine learning, computational biology techniques, and scientific literature analysis, in a model that works directly with patient advocacy groups for personalised healthcare for rare diseases.
According to Hermann Hauser, partner and co-founder of Amadeus Capital Partners, the start-up is a unique combination of technical, scientific and deep pharma and life sciences know-how. “With huge pressure on R&D budgets, drug repositioning will be essential in the fight against rare diseases. With this investment, Healx will take up a leadership position in the drug repurposing sector, expected to be worth over $31 billion by 2020,” he said.
Healx has a scalable technology platform which allows it to match potential treatments to rare conditions and patients. Through a data mining approach, the company expects to complete its drug repurposing studies within six months, much faster than historical literature-based studies.
While there are around 8,000 rare diseases, only about 500 have a cure. Many are linked to genetics and children account for some 75 per cent of identified cases. Healx has won contracts from major medical foundations in the US and Europe to find drug candidates to treat conditions including childhood diseases, Barth syndrome and Fragile-X.
Sales of ‘orphan’ drugs designed to treat a specific rare condition have been growing following changes in regulation and tax incentives in the US, with the market forecast to reach $178 billion in 2020. However, as only a small proportion of the population is affected by a particular rare disease, the justification for investing large sums in clinical trials remains a barrier to innovation.
This has long been a pain point for health-tech, according to Healx CEO Tim Guilliams. “Studies into rare medical conditions have long failed to receive adequate funding. By repurposing existing drugs to combat rare diseases, Healx is able to find potential treatments at a fraction of the cost and in a much shorter timeframe than developing a new drug. With this investment, Healx will have the resources to expand our technology platform and accelerate our drug review process to find treatments to many more devastating illnesses,” he said.