BenevolentAI's Proximagen buy creates first AI firm capable of entire drug R&D

artificial intelligence
Acquisition of Proximagen's U.K. facility marks the first time an AI company is able to work on the entire drug R&D process, says BenevolentAI. (Pixabay)

Ken Mulvany left his CEO post at Proximagen to found artificial intelligence firm BenevolentAI (originally known as Stratified Medical) in 2013. Now, having successfully grown the business into a bioinformatics unicorn, he has gone back and bought up part of his former employer.

BenevolentAI bought Proximagen’s U.K. operations—a drug discovery and development facility on the Babraham Research Campus in Cambridge—for an undisclosed sum. It allows BenevolentAI to cover the entire drug R&D process, the first time an AI company is able to do so, said the company.

“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,” said Mulvany in a statement.

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One of the largest AI enterprises in the world, BenevolentAI has built an AI-powered platform that mines scientific data to draw meaningful insights for drug discovery, either for designing new drugs or potentially repurposing drugs for other diseases. But prior to this acquisition, the company could only deal with discovery in-house and had to rely on CROs to clinically develop drug programs.

Mulvany and several colleagues are no strangers to Proximagen; after all, it was he who sold Proximagen to Upsher-Smith Laboratories for $553 million in 2012.

Home to a team of 44 scientists, the Cambridge site has expertise across areas including assay development and screening; medicinal and synthetic chemistry; drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics; in vivo pharmacology; as well as preclinical and clinical development.

Adding those capabilities to its portfolio means the company can generate biological hypotheses at scale, significantly reduce hypotheses validation time and diversify its range of projects and therapeutic areas, a company spokesperson told FierceBiotech.

RELATED: BenevolentAI poaches drug discovery executive from GlaxoSmithKline 

The U.K. site’s current research activity centers around a wide breadth of areas including pain, cognition and inflammation. The two companies' shared interest in those therapeutic areas could also mean a smooth team integration process.

Since spinning its bioscience-focused capabilities into BenevolentBio, the company has expanded its pipeline to include 19 programs, and it expects the amount and diversity of research programs to grow significantly with the Proximagen deal.

In November 2016, it in-licensed several clinical small-molecule compounds from Janssen to further develop their potentials in hard-to-treat diseases. The company pushed one of the candidates licensed, bavisant, in a phase 2b in Parkinson’s patients with excessive daytime sleepiness.

Working with the Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience, it made a breakthrough in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 2017, having validated that a drug candidate discovered by its AI platform could work.