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BenevolentAI aims to enter clinic in 2023 with candidate for novel ulcerative colitis target

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BenevolentAI has been buoyed by a significant milestone for its artificial intelligence-driven drug discovery platform.

The company, which has R&D facilities on Babraham Research Campus, has nominated a preclinical candidate for a novel ulcerative colitis target, which it expects to enter the clinic in early 2023.

BenevolentAI at Babraham Research Campus. Picture: Keith Heppell
BenevolentAI at Babraham Research Campus. Picture: Keith Heppell

The target had no prior reference in published literature or there were no patents linking the gene to ulcerative colitis.

BenevolentAI used its target ID tools and machine learning models to identify and validate the novel biological target.

Its molecular design capabilities were used to generate a potential best-in-class, oral, peripherally restricted candidate drug within two years of target validation.

The company says the preclinical candidate has been experimentally validated in ex-vivo ulcerative colitis colon samples from patients who were unresponsive to the standard of care treatment.

Anne Phelan, chief scientific officer at BenevolentAI, said: “Ulcerative colitis is a chronic, lifelong disease that affects 0.2 per cent of the US population alone and 1.6 million patients in the 7 major markets, yet it is poorly served by the standard of care therapies.

“Our novel preclinical candidate addresses the high unmet need for an oral, safe and efficacious therapy and has demonstrated improved safety and tolerability profile compared with other leading IBD treatments. We are actively using patient-derived molecular descriptors to target patient subgroups that will optimise trial design and further increase our probability of success.”

BenevolentAI at Babraham Research Campus. Picture: Keith Heppell
BenevolentAI at Babraham Research Campus. Picture: Keith Heppell

The company is now applying its precision medicine AI models to inform the design of the clinical trial, trained on ulcerative colitis patient data to target patient cohorts most likely to respond and identify efficacy biomarkers.

Joanna Shields, CEO of BenevolentAI, added: “Nominating a drug candidate for a novel ulcerative colitis target identified by our AI-drug discovery platform represents a milestone for BenevolentAI but more importantly, advances a new potential treatment for this debilitating disease.”

It represents further progress for the company which, earlier this year, had a novel AI-generated target selected for AstraZeneca's portfolio in chronic kidney disease, with further targets expected in Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF).

BenevolentAI is scaling its in-house pipeline, which now stretches to more than 20 programmes, including an asset in clinical trials for atopic dermatitis.

The company also discovered Eli Lilly’s baricitinib as a treatment for Covid-19. The novel drug repurposing hypothesis has been clinically validated and FDA approved.

So far, BenevolentAI is the only AI-augmented drug discovery company whose drug discovery platform and approach has been validated computationally, experimentally and in the clinic.

Headquartered in London and also with offices in New York, BenevolentAI employs more than 300 people. Its computational R&D platform spans every step of the drug discovery process.

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