Healx Ltd., a British firm using artificial intelligence to quickly identify and develop treatments for rare diseases, raised $56 million to support its clinical trials and drug development. REUTERS/Mark Blinch/Files
INTERNATIONAL - Healx Ltd., a British firm using artificial intelligence to quickly identify and develop treatments for rare diseases, raised $56 million to support its clinical trials and drug development.

The company will use the funds to test therapies for fragile X syndrome, a leading cause of autism that has no approved treatments, and build its portfolio of medicines, according to a statement. Venture capital firm Atomico led the round, while existing investors including Balderton Capital and Amadeus Capital Partners also participated.

Healx is planning another fund-raising round in the next 18 to 24 months, and then will consider an initial public offering, David Brown, co-founder and chairman, said in an interview. Healx officials declined to comment on the firm’s valuation.

Brown was previously a chemist at Pfizer Inc. where his team invented Viagra, a blood pressure drug that was almost canceled before researchers realized it also happened to treat erectile dysfunction. Similarly, Healx’s technology aims to find novel uses for drugs and combinations of drugs that are already available.

FILE- This Dec. 4, 2017, file photo shows a tablet of Pfizer's Viagra, left, and the company's generic version, sildenafil citrate, at Pfizer Inc., headquarters in New York. Healx Ltd., a British firm using artificial intelligence to quickly identify and develop treatments for rare diseases, raised $56 million to support its clinical trials and drug development. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)


The company is working to use AI to speed up discovery and testing of drugs, a process that can take years and cost billions of dollars using current approaches. Rather than invent new compounds, Healx focuses on finding new uses for existing drugs that are already shown to be safe and can go directly to mid-stage studies of side effects and efficacy. That can cut years off of the time it typically takes to develop a new drug, the company said.

“With the traditional approach, you have a 95% failure rate because you started with the wrong hypothesis,” said Chief Executive Officer and co-founder Tim Guilliams. “What we’re doing is we’re calling it ‘hypothesis free’ -- we let the algorithms decide first which diseases we work on.”

Healx also seeks partnerships in drug development, and is working with the Fraxa Research Foundation on treatments for fragile X syndrome. New treatments for diseases can be ready for clinical trials in as few as two years using the approach, the company said. Healx may have an approved therapy on the market as early as 2025, Guilliams said.

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