UK biotech 'unicorn' BenevolentAI raises cash for further expansion


BenevolentAI has raised a further $115 million from new and existing investors in a move that increases its value to more than $2 billion.

The company specialises in artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled drug research and has backing from influential biotech investor Woodford Investment Management Ltd, run by fund manager Neil Woodford.

Bloomberg reports that other past investors include Landsdowne Partners and pharma company Upsher Smith Laboratories.

The company started in 2013 and since then has raised more than $200 million and has become one of the UK’s biotech ‘unicorns’ – private companies with a market value above $1 billion.

The new investment follows an acquisition in February of a new facility in Cambridge, which the BenevolentAI hopes will achieve its goal of using its technology through the whole drug development process

Although the facility came with its own group of scientists that is being integrated into BenevolentAI, CEO Ken Mulvany said he would like BenevolentAI to grow in size to around 300 people, from its current tally of around 165 employees.

BenevolentAI's business is focused on an artificial “brain” that is capable of using its vast computing power to find drugs that will for example work on certain cancer mutations, or perhaps make the mutations less likely and rendering early lines of therapy useless.

Drug development is fraught with failures, and along with rivals such as Grail and Paige.AI, BenevolentAI hopes to use computer power to find compounds and drugs that have a higher chance of making it through the rigorous and costly clinical trial process.

It is working on treatments relating to certain brain cancers, the age-related muscle wasting disease sarcopenia, Parkinson’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Its algorithms have already identified five compounds that could help treat ALS and that had not been used in any existing drugs, which are being tested by University of Sheffield scientists.

Benevolent AI is currently working on a drug to treat motor neuron disease based on the fifth compound.

Other projects include a two-year agreement signed last year with MRC Technology to investigate new small molecule and antibody drug candidates.