U.K. drug discovery startup Healx taps GSK, Astex alum as CSO

Neil Thompson, Ph.D., was director of the immunology platform at GlaxoSmithKline and led the biology and preclinical teams at Astex. (Healx)

Healx, a Cambridge, U.K.-based biotech harnessing artificial intelligence to create new rare disease drugs, is building its discovery and development team. First up, it’s appointing Neil Thompson, Ph.D., a veteran of the British biopharma scene, as its chief scientific officer.

Healx raised $10 million in its series A round last July to build out its AI- and machine learning-based technology and to double its team, stacking it with software engineers, data scientists, pharmacologists and drug developers. As CSO, Thompson will oversee the expansion of the discovery and development team with “dynamic, forward-thinking scientists.”

The company’s Healnet platform combines data from various sources—including drug targets, disease symptoms and "multi-omics" data from clinical trials and scientific literature—in what it thinks is the “world’s most comprehensive knowledge graph of rare disease data.”

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“Our proven approach is to start from existing drugs and apply artificial intelligence to niche disease populations, working with patient groups to accelerate treatment development,” said Healx CEO Tim Guilliams at the close of the series A. The company reckons it can get drugs into the clinic within two years and aims to get the lofty goal of 100 rare disease treatments in the clinic by 2025, it said in a statement.

Thompson started his career as a biochemist at Wellcome, staying with the company through its mergers and eventually becoming director of the immunology platform at GlaxoSmithKline. He went on to Astex Therapeutics, where he led the biology team as a senior vice president, a role he kept when the biotech combined with Supergen in 2011 to become Astex Pharmaceuticals. At Astex, Thompson led the biology and preclinical teams that worked on the cancer drugs Kisqali and Balversa, which earned FDA approval after being licensed out to Novartis and Janssen, respectively.

“Neil has an impressive track record in both large and smaller drug companies. With his expertise in drug discovery and extensive experience in leadership roles at successful organisations like Astex, Neil will be a major driver in building a pioneering team specialising in harnessing the power of AI and big data to discover treatments for rare diseases,” Guilliams said in the statement.

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