Healx is solving a problem for 400m people by repurposing medicine

How an accident that led to Viagra informed the concept behind Healx.


  • Problem: 400m people in the world have a rare disease. There are 7k rare diseases — 95% of which have no FDA approved treatment.
  • Pitch: Healx uses AI to identify existing, clinically approved drugs that could be repurposed to treat rare diseases.
  • Timeline: David Brown and Tim Guilliams founded Healx in 2014, and the company raised a $56m Series B in 2019.

Healx isn’t David Brown’s 1st foray into drug development. The dude’s a big deal in pharmaceuticals — he co-invented Viagra in the ‘90s.

Viagra, though, was discovered by chance

Brown and his team at Pfizer created a drug they thought could be a treatment for cardiac chest pain, but early trials returned disappointing results.

Weeks away from getting the axe, an interesting side effect popped up: the participants had all experienced increased erections.

Brown pivoted immediately and began a new trial for what would later become Viagra.

That happy accident informed the concept behind Healx

The UK-based startup doesn’t actually develop new drugs but uses its AI platform, Healnet, to match existing drugs with the world’s 7k rare diseases, 95% of which don’t have approved treatments.

AI that enables the repurposing of current drugs can save time and money:

  • The cost to develop a prescription drug surged 145% since 2003 to $2.6B
  • Existing treatments for some rare diseases can cost millions out of pocket

It’s hard to beat the legacy of the little blue pill, but we think the potential to cure the millions of people affected by rare diseases — 50% of whom are kids — is just epic.

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