Some 76 startups now using AI in drug discovery – with traditional discovery then route to market typically taking over a decade
London-based medtech startup BenevolentAI today (April 19) announced a further $114 million in funding, bringing the company’s valuation to over $2 billion (£1.4 billion). The company, founded in 2013, describes itself as “the first fully integrated AI company with pharmaceutical discovery capabilities”. It uses proprietary algorithms to perform sophisticated reasoning on “over 50 billion ingested and contextualised facts”.
Ken Mulvany, founder and chairman of BenevolentAI said the funding “reflects the rapidly growing global interest in the AI pharmaceutical sector”.
BenevolentAI employs 165 people in London, Cambridge and New York, including data scientists, computer scientists, mathematicians and drug development R&D scientists.
It uses a NVIDIA DGX-1 (which the company describes as “the world’s first deep learning supercomputer in a box”) running its own “Judgment Augmented Cognition System”; a technology that uses deep natural language processing, machine learning and artificial intelligence to form hypotheses and draw conclusions on a wealth of data.
He added in a release: “The capabilities of our technology didn’t exist six years ago. We are pioneering this sector.”
The drug development process is a notoriously time and capital-intensive one. The process from identifying a new molecule to it getting to market as an approved drug has typically previously taken between 15 and 20 years, with success rates to develop a new drug around 5% — and costing up to $2 billion per new medicine.
The use of AI and machine learning to tackle the problem is a growing trend. BenchSci (a platform that transforms published data into experiment-specific recommendations) has identified 76 startups using AI in drug discovery.
BenevolentAI’s “bioscience machine brain” is being used to develop treatments for a wide range of diseases, including Motor Neuron Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, Glioblastoma and Sarcopenia. Semi-automatic novel drug molecules are generated and then advanced in its Cambridge (UK) research facility.
To date, the company has raised more than $200m of funding since 2013. Credit Suisse acted as the sole placement agent. The company – which says it has initiated over 20 drug programmes to date – will use the funds to “significantly” scale its drug development activities and extend its AI platform capabilities.
Ken Mulvany told Bloomberg that Benevolent AI algorithms identified five compounds that it believed would help treat ALS and that had not been used in any existing drugs.
These were tested by scientists at the University of Sheffield. One of the compounds didn’t work and three worked but no better than the molecules used in existing treatments, he said. The company is currently working to create a drug to treat motor neuron disease based on the fifth compound.