BenevolentAI and AstraZeneca signed a long-term collaboration agreement in 2019. The partnership sees them leverage the former’s proprietary AI drug discovery platform alongside disease expertise at the latter company to discover potential drug candidates in a variety of treatment areas.
BenevolentAI was able to announce that the companies had discovered an additional two novel targets to enter AZ’s pipeline. In total, this means that the collaboration has generated five drug targets, with two for chronic kidney disease and three in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
In January 2022, the two companies announced that their agreement had been extended for a further three years and that the disease targets had been expanded to include systemic lupus erythematosus and heart failure.
According to BenevolentAI, its platform is disease agnostic and can be applied to any disease area.
In terms of how it operates, it was stated that BenevolentAI integrates AZ’s data into its biomedical ‘Knowledge Graph’, which is able to normalize and contextualize external and internal data from various sources. Scientists from both companies then work together to use the AI platform and the Knowledge Graph to frame and test hypotheses to identify novel targets.
Any knowledge generated through the disease programs can then be fed directly back into the platform, which BenevolentAI states improves the quality of future drug target predictions.
With the two new additional drug targets having been selected by AZ, BenevolentAI has received a further two milestone payments.
In its financials released for the first half of 2022, BenevolentAI posted that its revenue had grown to £4.8m (€5.4m). The company stated, at the time, “Revenue increase across AstraZeneca collaboration, with a milestone reached related to the second novel target for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.”
The previous year’s revenue at the same period was £1.6m. The company stated it had a closing cash balance of £165m, as of the six months ending 30 June 2022. This provided the company a cash runway until the fourth quarter of 2024.
According to BenevolentAI, its AI platform can generate a much higher return on investment due to cost savings made in developing a drug candidate and the time saved. The company stated it is able to develop a drug target to candidate in two to two and a half years, which results in a time saving of at least two years, compared to the industry average.
This could be why a number of large pharma companies are looking at making investments and collaborations in the area. Pfizer recently made an equity investment in CytoReason, a long-term partner in AI drug discovery, and Sanofi entered an AI collaboration with Atomwise, with potentially $1bn on the line in milestone payments.