BenevolentAI's latest financing could halve its $2B valuation — and that has Woodford watchers worried
BenevolentAI is barely clinging to its unicorn status after its latest round of financing from Singapore’s Temasek, which would reportedly halve its $2 billion valuation — and deal another blow to troubled fund manager Neil Woodford.
Temasek will take a minority stake in a deal that values London-based BenevolentAI at $1 billion, the Sunday Times reported. A $115 million financing round last April — dedicated in part to scaling its drug development work — had donned a pre-money valuation of $2 billion.
The company has declined to comment.
BenevalentAI was, according to Reuters, among a group of holdings now on the auction block as Woodford cashes out the private companies in his portfolio in exchange for more liquid assets. Both the Equity Income fund — which Woodford suspended in a desperate bid to stem investor outflow — and the listed Patient Capital Income Trust have stakes in the biotech.
A lower valuation could hurt Woodford’s prospects of negotiating a good price for his equity, even though he’s previously predicted that they won’t have to take big discounts. The sale is critical for the turnaround Woodford is envisioning before reopening the Equity Income fund in early December.
With GSK vet Jackie Hunter in charge of clinical programs and strategic relationships, BenevolentAI has inked deals with the likes of AstraZeneca and Novartis to apply their AI “brain” to, respectively, advance precision medicine in oncology and identify new disease targets. The pharma giants each brought their own troves of data to the partnerships, adding to what BenevolentAI boasts as “the world’s largest most sophisticated bioscience knowledge graph.”
But its sky-high valuation has also raised some eyebrows, including those of renowned blogger and drug discovery scientist Derek Lowe.
“Really impressive AI might predict pathways or connections that haven’t been confirmed by experiment, but look as if they should exist,” he wrote after BenevolentAI announced its financing. “But AI as it stands is (at best) just going to sift through and rearrange knowledge that we already have, not give us more of it, and I just don’t think we have enough on hand to ‘decipher the molecular process of disease’.”