Well-connected IT-enabled drug repurposing shop raises cash for rare disease R&D push

Amadeus Capital Partners and Abcam founder Jonathan Milner have teamed up to invest in Healx, a British startup working with patient advocacy groups to repurpose drugs for rare diseases. Healx will use the money to step up the expansion of a data mining-based approach to drug discovery.

Like fellow drug repurposing shops including Biovista and Excelra, Healx dives into the literature and applies computational biology to suggest new uses for old drugs. The basic idea has been around for years without changing the face of drug development as proponents have predicted, but Healx is a little different from the rest of the sector, both in terms of how it is applying its technology and who it has persuaded to play a role in its advance.

Rather than partner with or service biotechs, as other tech-enabled repurposing outfits do, Healx is working directly with patient advocacy groups on either a not-for-profit or shared-reward basis. The model taps into the rise of patient advocacy to drive forward rare disease R&D, although, as with all of the current crop of tech-driven R&D startups, the merits of the concept from a drug development perspective will only be validated if compounds start coming down the pipeline.

Until then, Healx can point to the constellation of notable names swirling around it as evidence of its potential. The identities of the investors in the £1.5 million ($1.9 million) Series A are part of the case Healx can make. Amadeus Capital is best known in biotech IT circles as an investor in Solexa, the British firm behind the technology that turned Illumina ($ILMN) into a sequencing powerhouse. And Milner, as well as founding and leading reagent success story Abcam, is involved with a clutch of startups.

Milner is one of several leading lights of British biotech connected to Healx. David Brown, who held senior roles at Glaxo Wellcome and Roche ($RHHBY) earlier in his career--but will forever be known as the co-inventor of Viagra--is the chairman of the board at Healx. Darrin Disley, the CEO of Horizon Discovery who is involved with multiple British biotech startups, sits alongside Brown on the board. Elia Stupka, director of computational biology at Boehringer Ingelheim, and Steve Jackson, founder of KuDOS Pharmaceuticals and Mission Therapeutics, are also advisers to Healx.

Healx has attracted the who’s who of drug discovery and computational biology from Britain and beyond on the strength of its novel approach to the business of drug development and the potential of the technology it is working on.

“In 5 years time, we really hope we’ll understand, in detail, how human biology works and have analytical models, computer models to really predict who will respond to a drug, who will not respond, who will have which type of side effects and really be able to scale this platform,” Healx CEO Tim Guilliams told Cambridge TV earlier this year.