April 19, 2018 / 7:17 AM / a year ago

UPDATE 1-AI drug hunter BenevolentAI worth $2 bln after fund raising

(Adds further context on growing use of AI in drugs sector)

LONDON, April 19 (Reuters) - BenevolentAI, a British drug developer that uses artificial intelligence to identify new medicine candidates, said it had raised $115 million in a funding round that valued it at $2 billion.

The company, which has more than 20 drugs in development, plans to use the funds to increase the scale of its activities and broaden the disease areas on which it focuses. A portion will also go into work on other science-based industries such as advanced materials, agriculture and energy storage.

BenevolentAI has grown rapidly since it was founded in 2013, mirroring growing interest across the pharmaceuticals industry in harnessing the power of AI to speed up drug discovery and development.

The aim is to use modern supercomputers and machine learning systems to predict how molecules will behave and how likely they are to make a useful drug, thereby saving time and money on unnecessary tests.

AI systems already play a central role in other high-tech sectors such as the development of driverless cars and facial recognition software.

“We are pioneering this sector and have evolved into a fully integrated, AI-enabled drug development company with the ability to deliver better medicines at previously unimaginable speeds,” said BenevolentAI founder and chairman Ken Mulvany.

“This ultimately means patients will receive the right medicines, at a lower cost, in less time.”

The London-based company uses proprietary algorithms to analyse millions of pieces of scientific research and clinical studies in the search both for possible new medicines and new applications for existing drugs.

The company is developing treatments for conditions including motor neurone disease, Parkinson’s disease, glioblastoma and sarcopenia.

Other AI-powered drug developers include Scotland’s Exscientia and U.S.-based firms Berg, Numerate, twoXAR, Atomwise and InSilico Medicine.

Big pharmaceutical companies like GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi and Merck, meanwhile, are increasingly exploring the potential of AI through deals with such start-ups.

BenevolentAI said its existing investors, including Woodford Investment Management, and new investors, mainly from the United States, participated in the fund raising.

Credit Suisse was the placement agent, it said. (Reporting by Paul Sandle and Ben Hirschler Editing by Alison Williams and Susan Fenton)

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