BenevolentAI and Novartis sign AI R&D deal


The Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based drug development firm BenevolentAI has signed an agreement with Novartis to find potential new uses for oncology drugs already in its pipeline.

UK-based BenevolentAI said the collaboration programme will be led by Novartis’ Precision Medicine Team, within the company’s Global Drug Development operation.

The so-called “framework collaboration” will see the two companies investigate indications and responder groups for oncology drugs currently in clinical development.

BenevolentAI will apply its technology designed to enable better data-driven decisions to find new ways to treat disease and personalise drugs for patients.

The UK firm’s technology scans through molecular, clinical, pharmacological data and scientific literature to derive relationships in the data between genes, diseases, drugs and biological pathways leading to the proposal of novel or optimal drug targets.

It aims to support scientists designing and optimising drug molecules for defined patient populations.

Founded in 2013, London-based BenevolentAI is already well-established in the field of drug R&D and is considered to be a biotech “unicorn” – a privately-held company worth more than $1 billion.

This year it raised a further $115 million from new and existing investors to increase its value to more than $2 billion,

BenevolentAI already has several high-profile research collaborations, including AstraZeneca, and licensed in a group of drugs to develop from Janssen in 2016.

It has acquired a new R&D facility in Cambridge, where AstraZeneca has also located its new R&D hub.

The collaboration with AZ is based around research for new treatments for chronic kidney disease and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

Big pharma is increasingly turning to AI to make the drug discovery process faster and more efficient, such as using the technology to sort through the countless millions of molecules that could react with a drug target.

Celgene recently signed an oncology R&D deal with BenevolentAI’s UK rival, Exscientia, which is also working with GlaxoSmithKline.

Earlier this week Hong Kong’s Insilico Medicine claimed a major victory after its AI system outperformed big pharma in early drug R&D.

The company’s AI and deep learning system designed, synthesised, and validated a novel drug candidate in 46 days – 15 times faster than the best pharma companies.