A view from the labs

Ian Churcher

A new view brings a new perspective. It is late February and I am sitting in our new Cambridge office looking at an unusually snowy scene of lawns and woodland.

The new perspective this winter wonderland brings is, that while it is clear and compelling to me why we announced the acquisition of a state-of-the-art research facility on the Babraham Research Campus in Cambridge, it may not be so obvious to the outside world.  So, I thought I’d take some time to expand on some of the common questions I’m sure are on people’s lips.

The Why

Let’s start with the why? Why is it so important for BenevolentAI to have its own research facility? Drug discovery is renowned as incredibly complex and difficult. Our AI-driven approach enables us to propose better therapeutic disease treatments at scale, makes better molecules faster and is looking for ways to improve clinical studies. But even with all this advanced technology, we still need to generate a large amount of experimental data to prove the success of our drug molecules and support their rapid progress into the clinic.

Having our own tech and our own dedicated labs now gives us many more options for moving projects and moving them at a much faster pace. The Cambridge team give us a fantastic new dedicated resource in addition to the academics and contract research organisations (CROs) that we’ve worked with up till now. Having an internal team gives more flexibility, faster response and more intimate project teams but perhaps the most important reason is that everyone will be working for the same company with the same goal - to use our incredible AI technology to make better medicines faster.

The What

What exactly will we do in the Cambridge labs? We are fortunate that the Cambridge team has a broad experience that will give us new options in many areas: lots of experience in screening using cell-based assays means that we can validate more hypotheses in patient-relevant systems faster to give more project starts and lots of data for AI training to keep Supermodels (the name of one of tech development squads) and others happy!

On the chemistry side, we now have a large, fully equipped chemistry lab able to make the molecules suggested by our AI even faster and get them into the key biological assays to generate the data we need without delay. One of the areas I’m most excited about is the drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics (DMPK) and pharmacology groups who can generate important information on the way our drugs will behave in patients through access to extensive clinical capability. The ability to quickly generate data from clinical studies will really help our chemists as they work towards defining and refining their multi-parameter optimisation (MPO) strategies to find high quality clinical candidate molecules.

The Why Cambridge

Some of you might wonder why we choose Cambridge and not open a research facility in London, close to our HQ in King’s Cross. Cambridge is the biggest biomedical cluster anywhere in Europe and in the same way as being in the heart of London’s Knowledge Quarter gives us the best location for accessing world class tech expertise, a base in Cambridge gives us the same benefit on the biomedical side.  

With 17 science parks, a wide range of internationally renowned institutes and of course the university, this is an incredible community to be part of and will help us put in place collaborations, access more data and also attract the best talent to the team. I know a lot of senior Cambridge influencers and look forward to renewing my relationships with them, starting this week when Jackie & I have lunch with Prof Michael Wakelam, the Director of the Babraham Research Institute, the internationally important biological research centre around which the research campus and our own facility sits.

Additionally, to match the ambition of BenevolentAI, we needed a sizeable facility.  The facility on Babraham gives us instant, spacious, fully equipped rare real estate and, combined with an expert scientific team, these sorts of opportunities are like gold dust. Without this opportunity, even if we were lucky enough to find an available lab space, it would very likely take us 12-18 months to fully fit out and staff giving us a huge lag in being able to generate the data and bring in the new expertise which is so key for us.

We also looked at strategic partnerships with CROs. This could have given us flexibility but the intimate alignment of teams and goals would have been more challenging. In the end, Cambridge was the best option in terms of capability, location and alignment to our company goals and I’m so excited to be bringing the London and new Cambridge teams together to truly accelerate the drug discovery and development process.

Ian Churcher

BenevolentAI Babraham Campus in Cambridge will help accelerating BAI drug development programmes