BenevolentAI taps former Bayer R&D chief to help steer the AI biotech out of choppy waters

Last year was rocky for a number of the first AI-based biotechs that entered the clinic, including BenevolentAI. But a new year spells new hope and the company has a fresh captain to try and steady the ship.

That new CEO is Joerg Moeller, M.D., Ph.D., who has moved across from LEO Pharma, where he led R&D since 2021. But arguably more important are the nearly 20 years he spent at Bayer, ascending from the head of strategic development of the cardiovascular unit to chief of global R&D for the German pharmaceutical giant.

Moeller “is a well-known and respected figure within the target stakeholders of BenevolentAI,” the company said in its Jan. 24 announcement. Benevolent's chairman François Nader also praised Moeller as a “strong advocate of AI as a driver of discovery innovation and effectiveness.” 

Ultimately, Benevolent is banking on Moeller’s ability to effectively and efficiently steer the company through the clinic after a midstage failure last year. The biotech reported in April that its pan-Trk inhibitor, BEN-2293, didn't improve eczema severity or itching compared to placebo, prompting the company to walk away from the asset. The pivot also led Benevolent to lay off 180 employees. 

The focus now is BEN-8744, a PDE10-targeting inflammatory bowel disease med, which is in a phase 1 trial to treat ulcerative colitis. The company expects topline data to be ready in the first quarter of this year. 

Benevolent will also continue to work on its partnered preclinical assets with AstraZeneca and Merck KGaA, respectively. AstraZeneca tapped the biotech to find druggable targets for chronic kidney disease and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis while Merck KGaA is hunting for oncology, neurology and immunology candidates.