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BenevolentAI, one of world's top five AI companies, acquires drug discovery centre on Babraham Research Campus

By Paul Brackley

BenevolentAI uses artificial intelligence to speed up drug discovery
BenevolentAI uses artificial intelligence to speed up drug discovery

Unicorn founded by Ken Mulvany uses artificial intelligence to understand all the world's biomedical data

The site acquired by BenevolentAI on Babraham Research Campus
The site acquired by BenevolentAI on Babraham Research Campus

Europe’s biggest private artificial intelligence company - and one of the world’s top five - has acquired a state-of-the-art drug discovery and development facility on Babraham Research Campus.

BenevolentAI, which is valued at more than £1.3billion, says the move creates an AI-enabled research centre that will dramatically reduce the time it takes for potential new drugs to enter clinical testing and significantly improve the number that are successful in treating or curing disease.

And it will be a global first for an AI company to be able to work end-to-end on the entire drug development process, from discovery to late-stage clinical development.

Ken Mulvany, founder and chairman of BenevolentAI, said: “We have built an artificial intelligence technology that can read and understand the world’s biomedical information, then perform complex reasoning, to tell us things about disease never understood before. This enables us to discover new medicines like no other organisation and drive cures for diseases that were previously untreatable.

Inside the labs acquired by BenevolentAI on Babraham Research Campus
Inside the labs acquired by BenevolentAI on Babraham Research Campus

“The acquisition has expanded our scale and capability overnight and created something that previously did not exist – an AI company truly integrated across every stage of the drug development process.”

In acquiring the UK operations and facilities of Proximagen - a successful biotech firm that was founded by Mulvany himself and sold in 2012 to Upsher-Smith Laboratories for $553million - BenevolentAI adds a large scientific team with deep expertise in assay development and screening, medicinal and synthetic chemistry, drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics, pharmacology and clinical development.

The Cambridge team will be integrated with BenevolentAI’s scientists, using AI to cut years off the drug development process.

With a new scientific paper published every 30 seconds around the world, and 10,000 updates on PubMed each day, it is impossible for human beings to keep up with the sum of knowledge.

Inside the labs acquired by BenevolentAI on Babraham Research Campus
Inside the labs acquired by BenevolentAI on Babraham Research Campus

Collating all of this data, and then extracting knowledge - including the relative value to place on new discoveries and theories - BeneveolentAI uses its proprietary artificial intelligence to design new molecules and find novel drug candidates to treat a range of complex and previously untreatable diseases. The company is generating new scientific insights on a massive scale using this approach.

Since establishing its drug development subsidiary BenevolentBio less than two years ago, the company’s drug research pipeline already features 19 validated programmes and there are many more waiting in the wings as it continues its rapid expansion.

The Cambridge Independent understands BenevolentAI - which employs 150 at its HQ in London, with other teams in New York, San Diego and Belgium - could double in size this year, adding staff across multiple disciplines, from mathematicians to biologists to computer scientists.

It announced a breakthrough in motor neurone disease (also known as ALS) in 2017, with positive results for its AI-derived invention. The company entered into significant license agreements with world-leading pharmaceutical companies and began its first Phase IIb clinical study last year.

Inside the labs acquired by BenevolentAI on Babraham Research Campus
Inside the labs acquired by BenevolentAI on Babraham Research Campus

BenevolentAI is also looking to apply its AI technology in other valuable science-based markets, such as advanced materials, agriculture, nutraceuticals and animal health.

It has begun by looking at the multi-billion dollar energy storage market, establishing BenevolentAI Energy.

Since its inception, the company has raised £109.5million.

How does it work?

BenevolentAI says its artificial intelligence technology probes ‘hidden’ scientific knowledge and and deduces what ‘should’ be known based on what ‘is’ already known.

By taking the vast quantity of unstructured information in scientific papers, patents, clinical trial information and from a large number of structured data sets, it generates usable knowledge.

Finding connections that would then be missed, it is able to design new molecules that are more likely to be successful.

It has generated a knowledge graph composed of more than one billion relationships between genes, targets, diseases, proteins and drugs.

What are the benefits?

This approach has the potentially to dramatically reduce the enormous cost of creating new drugs by making the drug discovery process more efficient. BenevolentAI also says it will knock years off the process.

What diseases will be targeted?

There are 8,000 diseases with no treatment or cure. BenevolentAI aims to explore currently overlooked areas such as orphan diseases and rare cancers, as well as looking at diseases including motor neurone disease and cystic fibrosis, which currently have no cure.


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