Healx will use AI to seek combination therapies to treat Covid-19

6 Apr 2020

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Healx, which runs an AI drug discovery platform, wants to predict which known drugs could be used to treat Covid-19.

Cambridge University-based artificial intelligence (AI) start-up Healx has announced plans to use its biotech platform to search for therapies that could potentially treat Covid-19.

Healx has developed an AI platform to discover and develop treatments for rare diseases by combining AI with pharmacological expertise and patient engagement. The company was founded by Dr David Brown, Dr Tim Guilliams and Dr Andreas Bender in 2014, and last year raised $56m for its AI drug discovery platform.

As Healx uses its technology to explore possible treatments for Covid-19, the start-up will focus on combination therapies where two or more drugs simultaneously target different aspects of the disease pathology. It is welcoming any partners that would like to contribute to the project or who can offer help in discovering viable treatments.

Combination therapies

Healx is working to accelerate the discovery and development of therapies for rare diseases that exist without treatment options. This includes cystic fibrosis, Alström syndrome, and other conditions relating to the heart and respiratory system that can put patients in the at-risk category if they develop Covid-19.

The start-up said that combination therapies can be particularly difficult to discover. To uncover potential combination treatments for Covid-19 requires detailed analysis of the 8m possible pairs and 10.5bn drug triples stemming from the 4,000 approved drugs already on the market.

Healx’s platform, Healnet, aims to overcome this challenge by integrating and analysing biomedical data from multiple sources to predict combination therapies that are most likely to succeed in the clinic.

The company said that the development of combination therapies is one its “core strengths” and combination therapy candidates for treating Covid-19 will be available in May for preclinical testing.

Potential impact

Brown, who is co-founder and chair of Healx, said: “The recent spread of Covid-19 is risking the lives of millions of rare disease patients across the world. The company’s AI technology is perfectly positioned to support the efforts to find treatments for Covid-19.

“Healx’s data-driven AI platform is able to predict, within weeks, which known drugs can be repurposed to treat other conditions such as Covid-19. This approach significantly shortens discovery-to-clinic timelines.

“Our AI is able to combine two to three existing drugs to formulate the most effective treatment. This approach ensures that any potential treatments we identify can be used by clinicians to help patients very quickly.”

Dr Rick Thompson, CEO of UK rare disease patient advocacy group Findacure, added: “Rare disease patients – especially those with respiratory or immune conditions – are feeling particularly vulnerable to serious complications of infection.

“Efforts like Healx’s to find viable treatments for Covid-19 will have a huge impact on the world’s rare disease communities, whose quest for support and treatments can be all to easy to overlook.”

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic