BenevolentAI wields the axe, cutting jobs and projects

BenevolentAI's Joanna Shields

Baroness Joanna Shields, BenevolentAI chief executive

BenevolentAI has hit another bump in the road. The specialist in applying artificial intelligence to drug discovery and development has said it will cut 180 staff, narrow its focus to its most promising R&D projects, and reduce lab space.

It has also said goodbye to its chief financial officer, Nicholas Keher, who has resigned from the company in order to “pursue other business interests” and will be replaced in the interim by finance director Tom Holgate, while a new CFO is sought.

The new strategic plan announced this morning aims to cut spending and free up around £45 million ($56 million) in net cash, which will fund operations through to the middle of 2025 at least, and focus operations around commercial-stage programmes offered to biopharma partners and a reduced set of in-house R&D projects.

BenevolentAI’s chief executive Joanna Shields said the move had required “difficult decisions”, but would position the company “to meet this moment of opportunity for AI in biopharma.”

The company will now consist of two divisions: a tech unit providing a suite of generative AI and large language model tools to other biopharma companies, and a bio business unit dedicated to its most promising pipeline projects.

The cost savings will come mainly from reduced R&D and staff costs, accounting for £32 million of the total, with the other £13 million coming from reduced facility and other operating expenses, said the Amsterdam-listed company in a stock exchange filing.

The stripped down pipeline now focuses on a pair of programmes moving towards the clinical trials stage – PDE10 inhibitor BEN-8744 for ulcerative colitis and CHK1 inhibitor BEN-28010 for brain cancer glioblastoma multiforme – as well as early-stage projects for neurodegenerative and immunological diseases.

Lead drug for atopic dermatitis dropped

That list notably excludes topical Trk inhibitor BEN2293, its lead drug candidate for atopic dermatitis that flunked a phase 2a clinical trial last month, showing no benefit over placebo.

The drug class is best known for its potential in the treatment of cancer, but the AI company’s models had suggested it could play a role in reducing itch and inflammation in AD, also known as eczema. It had hoped to out-license the candidate on the strength of the phase 2a data.

Now, BenevolentAI’s ulcerative colitis programme is the lead, due to start phase 1 testing in the third quarter of this year, with the brain cancer candidate following a few months later.

BenevolentAI’s share price has slumped from well over €9 as of 12 months ago to less than €2, with a drop of more than 40% in the last three months.