AI, Venture

Biotech unicorn’s ‘brain’ attracts a $115M mega-round as investors embrace AI upstart

Artificial intelligence in drug development is still gaining momentum. Just ask BenevolentAI, which has brought in a new $115 million round for its technology that promises to process vast amounts of bioscience information and churn out new discoveries.

Ken Mulvany

Backed by new, undisclosed investors from the United States as well as existing supporters like Woodford Investment Management, the round puts London-based BenevolentAI at a pre-money valuation of $2 billion. The syndicate features a mix of family offices and some strategic backers but not “more traditional VCs,” TechCrunch reports.

Since its founding in 2013, the biotech has raised more than $200 million. The new cash will go into scaling its drug development activities, broadening focus disease area, and extend its platform capabilities — not just in pharmaceuticals but also in material science, energy and agriculture.

Despite continued skepticism and scrutiny as to how much AI can shave off the painfully lengthy drug development process and increase success rates, it continues to inspire enthusiasm especially in Big Pharma, where execs are always looking for ways to trim spending. In fact, J&J handed some clinical-stage drug candidates for BenevolentAI to guide development back in 2016 with plans to start Phase IIb trials last year.

Jackie Hunter

The core of BenevolentAI’s promise is an AI “brain” that now holds “50 billion biological data points and complex biological concepts – the world’s largest most sophisticated bioscience knowledge graph,” founder and chairman Ken Mulvany writes in a blog post. “The technology that sits on this knowledge is able to generate new insights into the cause of disease at a scale not possible for human beings.”

Under the leadership of GSK vet Jackie Hunter, BenevolentAI is working on 22 programs across areas spanning Parkinson’s disease, motor neuron disease, glioblastoma and sarcopenia, though only two are in advanced stages.

Recently, the company acquired a drug discovery and development facility on the Babraham Research Campus in Cambridge, UK, bringing a new scientific team and late-stage clinical testing capabilities into its fold. Mulvany told TechCrunch that he hopes to almost double the size of the team by the end of the year, from 155 to 300.

“We have come a very long way since we founded the business in 2013. The capabilities of our technology didn’t exist 6 years ago,” he said in a statement.

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