BenevolentAI gets $115M to harness AI for new drug discovery

By Jonah Comstock
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BenevolentAI, a UK company using artificial intelligence for drug development, has raised $115 million in new funding, mostly from undisclosed investors in the United States. Existing backer Woodford Investment Management also participated in the round, which brings the company’s total funds raised to over $200 million.

“We are very pleased with the response to the fundraising," Ken Mulvany, founder and chairman of BenevolentAI, said in a statement. “It reflects the rapidly growing global interest in the AI pharmaceutical sector and the recognition of our place as the dominant player within it. We have come a very long way since we founded the business in 2013. The capabilities of our technology didn’t exist six years ago. We are the pioneers in this sector and have evolved into a fully integrated, AI-enabled drug development company with the ability to deliver better medicines at previously unimaginable speeds — this ultimately means patients will receive the right medicines, at a lower cost, in less time.”

The company is harnessing the power of machine learning for the task of drug discovery. The company doesn’t develop the drugs itself, nor does it license out the AI software to drug companies. Instead, the company sells the intellectual property discovered by the algorithm.

"The traditional approach to drug discovery and development was driven by individual experts, working within an environment that was exceptionally inefficient and disordered in driving innovation," Mulvany wrote in a blog post accompanying the funding news. "The best-read individuals would often dominate the conversation, influencing their peers and driving invention forward based on their singular understanding. This created boundaries to the exploration of new ideas and resulted in ‘innovation entropy’. Unwittingly, we were limiting the potential of our scientific community, their capacity for creative invention, and the profound potential benefits of the application of their ideas in society."

BenevolentAI claims to cut drug development timelines by four years and improve efficiencies by 60 percent compared to pharma industry averages.

"When founding the company, we thought big and, crucially, we thought specific," Mulvany wrote. "From the beginning, I wanted to reinvent and disrupt the entire end-to-end drug development process that was not reliant on the existing fragmented and vastly inefficient drug development industry ecosystem. We set out to create a directional, consequential, and exquisite technology specific to bioscience. To do this we built our team and technology with a commitment to deep drug development expertise and state-of-the-art AI, and crucially, we did it with start-up attitude."

The company has already discovered 11 new drug targets. It will use the new funding to scale development activities, improve the capabilities of its AI, and extend into more disease areas (current areas include motor neuron disease, Parkinson’s disease, glioblastoma, and sarcopenia).

The funds will also be used to develop new businesses outside of health, including materials, agriculture, and energy.