AI-based drug discovery startup BenchSci wins $63M Series C funding round led by Inovia and TCV
BenchSci claims its technology is used by 16 of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies.
With an artificial intelligence powered platform for biomedical research, the BenchSci has made a name for itself on a global scale, attracting the attention of major pharmaceutical companies and major investors.
Sixteen of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies use BenchSci’s technology, including Eli Lilly, Sanofi, Moderna and AstraZeneca.
Today, the startup has secured C$63 million in Series C capital to “accelerate” the reach of its technology around the world.
“It is very absurd to think that a salesperson has more software tools to augment their work than a scientist working to solve the toughest problems known to most people.”
The all-equity and primary capital round was led by long-time BenchSci investor Inovia Capital, through its growth fund, and US-based TCV.
“They taught computer science[s] how to be a biologist and sort through all this information and make this whole industry work better,” Inovia partner Dennis Kavelman said in an interview. “It resonates so clearly as an application for machine learning and artificial intelligence that you can really see how it is [going to] make things better.
BenchSci uses machine learning to “target inefficiencies and wasteful expense” in preclinical scientific research, with the goal of helping scientists and pharmaceutical companies accelerate drug discovery. The idea is to use machine learning to help researchers find reliable antibodies based on data from scientific papers.
The company’s ultimate goal is to bring innovative medicines to patients 50% faster by 2025.
“Historically, no one has invested in technology and software tools for scientists, who we consider heroes,” said Liran Belenzon, CEO of BenchSci.
“It’s very absurd to think that a salesperson has more software tools to augment their work than a scientist working to solve the toughest problems known to most people,” Belenzon lamented. “So we’re fixing that.”
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Belenzon claimed the industry norm meant BenchSci helped create a new category, which led to difficulties in raising capital when the startup was founded in 2015.
BenchSci provided seed capital shortly after its inception, with Real Ventures and Golden Ventures making early bets on the company. It was after Golden Ventures led a $2.5 million fundraising round in 2017 that Inovia Capital first entered the scene.
Inovia Capital led a $10 million Series A funding round in 2018, and funding and investor interest grew after that. Google’s AI-focused venture capital fund, Gradient Ventures, also participated in this round. And, like Inovia Capital, Gradient has invested in every BenchSci funding round since then.
The latest round brings BenchSci’s total funding to date to $123 million. In addition to Inovia Capital and TCV, Belenzon told BetaKit that all of BenchSci’s Series B investors (except Real Ventures) invested in the Series C round. These investors include Venture Capital Catalyst Initiative ( VCCI) – backed by Northleaf Capital Partners, Gradient Ventures and Golden Ventures.
With a focus on growth-stage companies, TCV has recently made notable bets on Canadian technology. That drove Trulioo to a $2 billion valuation after the company secured C$476 million in Series D capital, and TCV led the $114 million round in Wealthsimple that capitulated it at a valuation. of $1.4 billion (Wealthsimple has since reached a valuation of $5 billion).
According to Kavelman, this investment is a doubling of BenchSci by Inovia Capital. It’s a familiar strategy the company has adopted across its portfolio over the past few years.
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The decision to do so with BenchSci came after Kavelman (a former Research In Motion/BlackBerry executive) joined BenchSci’s board of directors last year. The move was part of a “strengthening” of the startup’s board and management team, which sought to accelerate growth. Bonita Stewart, board partner of Gradient Ventures, joined the board in August.
Kavelman’s connection to BenchSci actually dates back to before he joined the board and before Inovia Capital first invested in the company.
Kavelman helped create Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) in 2012, and it was at the accelerator that BenchSci CEO Belenzon first met his co-founders, Tom Leung, David Chen and Elvis Wianda, in 2015.
Which started as a Ph.D. students working on a project exploring the use of machine learning to analyze scientific papers has grown into a 210-employee company, with 4,500 research centers and 49,000 scientists around the world using its technology.
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“When we considered surveying the landscape in and around the [drug discovery] R&D process, we haven’t found… technology solutions as innovative as BenchSci,” Matt Brennan, general partner at TCV, told BetaKit. “Most importantly, BenchSci starts where it all begins. They allow scientists in the preclinical setting to design and brainstorm drugs to be manufactured and, ultimately, to apply them to experimentation. And that’s really an important point to make sure we’re doing well, because otherwise hundreds of millions, if not billions, [of dollars] can be wasted downstream for some of these pharmaceutical companies.
It is this focus on the early stages of drug research that BenchSci considers its differentiator.
Canada alone is home to notable tech companies in drug discovery, including AbCellera and Softbank-backed Deep Genomics, among others. Deep Genomics made its first-ever discovery of a disease treatment and drug candidate using AI in 2019, since that number rose. While Deep Genomics works closely on this drug discovery, BenchSci makes no discoveries and views its platform as a tool for scientists.
“[We are] serving big pharma and biotech companies by giving them access…in a democratizing way to AI to energize and augment their science,” Belenzon said.
Image courtesy BenchSci.