Interview with Dr Tim Guilliams, CEO and co-founder of Healx

  • Healx is a MedTech firm based in Cambridge, UK, founded in 2014 by Dr David Brown, co-creator of Viagra, and biochemical engineer Dr Tim Guilliams.
  • Healx aim to advance 100 treatments towards the clinic by 2025.
  • In October 2019, Healx raised $56million in a Series B financing round led by Atomico.


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Who are Healx?


Dr Tim Guilliams: There are 400 million people worldwide living with over 7,000 rare diseases – only 5% of which have an approved treatment. Healx was founded to change this bleak reality. Healx is an AI-powered, patient-inspired technology company, accelerating the discovery and development of rare disease treatments. Our mission is simple: to advance 100 treatments towards the clinic by 2025, providing hope for those living with rare, and often untreatable, conditions.


What are the main products that Healx offers and how do they work to alleviate pre-existing problems in the market?


As it stands, the traditional approach to drug discovery – with its timeline of between 12-14 years and a price tag of around $2-3 billion – means pharmaceutical companies tend to prioritise blockbuster drugs for larger disease populations. Unfortunately, this commercial model is not viable for rare disease patients.

To solve this problem, we developed Healnet, our AI-powered drug discovery platform, which features the world’s most comprehensive knowledge base of rare disease information. Healnet uses a suite of complex AI algorithms to query the various data in this knowledge base and predict potential new drug-disease relationships. This cuts the discovery-to-clinic timeline to as little as 24 months – along with the associated costs and failure rates.

Our data-driven approach also allows our team of drug discovery experts to uncover and explore potential treatments that they probably would not otherwise have considered, since Healnet’s predictions often unearth previously unknown biological mechanisms of the disease.


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How has Healx developed from when they were first founded?


During my time at the University of Cambridge, I was fortunate enough to meet Healx’s Co-founder Dr Dave Brown, the co-inventor of Viagra and former Global Head of Drug Discovery at Roche. We were both passionate about AI and the benefits it could offer the rare disease community. However, it wasn’t until we met with a number of rare disease parents, who were attempting to repurpose drugs as treatments for their children, that we realised just how great the unmet need was. And so in 2014, we founded Healx.

In the years since then we’ve made great progress, validating a significant number of our drug predictions in disease models and building strong relationships with patient groups. We’re continuously developing our AI platform – collecting increasing amounts of rare disease data and optimising the algorithms that power our predictions – in order to predict treatments with even greater accuracy. This in turn has given our team of drug discovery experts the ability to make better decisions, faster.


How have Healx been able to maintain a ‘personal touch’ to their business whilst simultaneously expanding?


Whilst technology is integral to our work, we’re committed to keeping patients at the very heart of what we do – they are the real disease experts after all. This patient-centric focus sees us collaborate with a number of patient groups worldwide to understand the most urgent challenges patients and their carers face. This is an approach that we feel not only marks us out from our competitors but which, ultimately, helps us do a better job of improving the quality of life of those living with rare diseases. What’s more, involving patient groups from the outset closes the discovery research loop earlier.

In our ongoing effort to keep patients firmly involved in the drug discovery process we recently launched our Rare Treatment Accelerator – a global partnering programme that gives patient groups and Healx the opportunity to work together to quickly progress new rare disease treatments.

To give you an idea of our commitment to these partnerships, we have pledged a total of $20 million – from the $56 million raised in our recent Series B finance round – over the next two years towards finding new rare disease treatments.


What is Healx’s five-year plan?


Over the next five years our mission is to translate 100 rare disease treatments towards the clinic by 2025, expanding our rare disease project portfolio tenfold.

We intend to do this by taking an increasing number of projects towards clinical trials – starting with our lead programme for fragile X syndrome which will enter Phase 2a trials later this year.

Instrumental to our growth to date, have been our two successful funding rounds, the latest of which was our $56 million Series B in October 2019. This recent financing allowed us to launch our Rare Treatment Accelerator programme, which will enable us to partner with even more patient groups to quickly discover and develop repurposed treatments for rare diseases. Working together with selected patient groups, we will invest up to the value of $1 million in AI and drug discovery resources per partnership.


What does Healx do to stay one-step ahead of its competitors in the market?


We stay ahead of the game by maintaining our focus on our patient-centric model and working to take our treatments from prediction stage to the point of being clinically-ready for testing as quickly as possible. This dedication to patients, combined with our next-generation AI technology and drug discovery expertise, helps ensure that we stay ahead of our nearest competitors.

As well as our patient focus, we strive to remain in the forefront by growing our team of experts. In the last six months alone, Dr Anthony Hall (Chief Medical Officer) and Dr Bruce Bloom (Chief Collaboration Officer) have joined our fast-growing team. Together they bring over 65-years of experience in the healthcare industry and have respectively co-founded and founded non-profit organisations dedicated to finding treatments for rare diseases. Their wealth of knowledge, experience working with patient groups, plus their strong relationships within the industry, will help us progress more treatments through to the clinic even faster.


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