BenevolentAI looks to artificial intelligence for speedy development of in-licensed drugs

A key ambition of BenevolentAI is to utilize artificial intelligence in revolutionizing the drug development process. Now, with a licensing agreement with Janssen, it is one significant step closer to realizing that dream.

With assistance from Johnson & Johnson Innovation's Centre in London, the British AI company has acquired an undisclosed number of novel clinical stage drug candidates, together with their related patents. The company used its AI platform to evaluate the potential of these small molecule compounds and found some could be promising candidates for hard-to-treat diseases.

“The compounds come with a wealth of clinical and biological data that enables BenevolentAI to have further insights into the biology of diseases,” said BenevolentBio’s CEO Jackie Hunter. “Securing these novel clinical drug candidates perfectly aligns with our strategy of developing first-in-class and best-in-class stratified medicines to help patients with high unmet needs.”

BenevolentAI was relaunched in 2013 from what was known as Stratified Medical. It was founded by the tech-savvy management team of Proximagen, the drug R&D subsidiary of Upsher-Smith Laboratories. To them, it is quite tempting what AI potentially can do to accelerate biomedical discoveries by uniting technology and bioscience.

“A new scientific paper is published every 30 seconds and there are 10,000 updates to PubMed every day,” James Chandler, a media aide for the company told FierceCRO. “It is impossible for humans alone to process all of the complex information potentially available to them for the advancement of scientific research.” As a consequence, only a small proportion of scientific information generated worldwide becomes “useable” knowledge.

That’s the kind of problems companies like BenevolentAI want to solve—by harnessing the power of AI to process massive amount of scientific information and provide scientists with the insight and analytical tools they need to dramatically speed up drug discovery.

Actually, that process has already been proven to be doable. Earlier this year, Insilico Medicine, another bioinformatics firm which has set up an entire Pharma.AI division focused on using AI for drug discovery, published an article in Molecular Pharmaceutics about how to teach AI to predict potential therapeutic use of new drugs even before they’re tested. The process also involves taking in huge amounts of data, but from experiments involving established drugs. The model exhibited meaningful accuracy in identifying the drugs' potential to be re-purposed for other clinical applications. Even if it’s just one step forward, the company predicted that AI could rapidly accelerate the preclinical stage of drug development.

BenevolentAI's deal with Janssen gives it the sole right to develop, manufacture and commercialize those novel drug candidates in all indications, and the company says it intends to begin Phase IIb clinical trials in mid-2017.

Although it is currently focusing on the application of its technology on human meds development, Chandler said BenevolentAI is also beginning to seek ways to expand into other area of scientific discovery such as veterinary medicine, nutraceuticals, materials science and agro technology.