Shakeup at BenevolentAI continues with job, programme cuts

BenevolentAI's new CEO Dr Jörg Möller
Jörg Möller/LinkedIn

BenevolentAI is embarking on another round of job losses, closing its US office, and shelving its software-as-a-service business to extend its cash reserves into the third quarter of 2025.

The new measures come amid a turbulent period for the company, which specialises in artificial intelligence-powered drug discovery and development, with a change of CEO and a series of board changes instigated by founder and major shareholder Ken Mulvany, who has been unhappy with the direction it has taken.

They also come around a year after BenevolentAI shed 180 staff, narrowed its focus to its most promising R&D projects, and reduced lab space in an earlier attempt to reduce costs.

The new drive aims to shave 20% off its cash burn, and will see work ended on BenevolentAI’s Knowledge Exploration Tools – a suite of SaaS products designed to improve R&D productivity – to narrow the company's focus on its internal and partnered drug pipeline.

Chairman Dr François Nader and three other non-executive directors, including ex-Sanofi CEO Olivier Brandicourt, have indicated they will stand down at the next annual general meeting in early May, according to a BusinessCloud report.

Mulvany – who left the company when it listed on the Amsterdam stock exchange in 2022 and retains a 23% stake in the company – is reportedly seeking to replace Nader as executive chair after voicing concerns about “cost management, business development resourcing, strategy, investor relations and governance.”

BenevolentAI started life as a public company with a valuation of more than £1 billion but has seen its share price fall by more than 90% since then and is now valued at around £85 million, despite signing a major $594 million alliance last year with German group Merck KGaA and reporting encouraging clinical data with lead asset BEN-8744 in ulcerative colitis.

In a letter sent to Nader last month, Mulvany wrote: “No shareholder can be indifferent to this profoundly disappointing result.”

New CEO Dr Jörg Möller, who stepped in after Joanna Shields stepped down last year, said: “While these situations are always difficult, as a company, we have a duty to our shareholders to optimise capital allocation in the areas where we believe the potential return is the greatest.”

He added: “I believe that focusing our organisation on furthering our drug discovery collaborations and progressing our proprietary pipeline is the best way to achieve both the goal, of delivering value creation for our shareholders and delivering innovative medicines to patients suffering from very serious medical conditions.”