Drug developer BenevolentAI faces founder-led board revolt | Business News


BenevolentAI, a British-based drug developer, is facing a boardroom coup led by its founder after seeing its shares slump since it floated little more than two years ago.

Sky News has learnt that Ken Mulvany, who founded the artificial intelligence company in 2013, has written to BenevolentAI’s chairman to seek the removal of most of its board and the appointment of a new slate of directors – including himself as executive chairman.

The move represents a dramatic intervention from Mr Mulvany more than 18 months after he stepped down from its board in the wake of its listing on the Euronext exchange in Amsterdam.

BenevolentAI went public with a valuation of over £1bn by combining with a special purpose acquisition company established by Michael and Yoel Zaoui, two of the most prominent investment bankers of their generation.

However, its shares have since crashed by over 90%, leaving it with a market valuation of less than 100m Euros.

Last autumn, Baroness Shields, the former technology adviser to David Cameron, stepped down as its chief executive after a period of poor performance.

The company also axed about half of its 360-strong workforce.

In a letter to Francois Nader, BenevolentAI’s chairman, a copy of which has been seen by Sky News, Mr Mulvany said he had “raised serious concerns about the company’s cost management, business development resourcing, strategy, investor relations and governance”.

Mr Mulvany reiterated his belief in the company’s earlier achievements in demonstrating the potential for using AI to improve patient healthcare.

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Citing its partnerships with the drugs giants AstraZeneca and Merck, he hailed its “rich pipeline of drug candidate programmes”.

He warned, though, that these were being overshadowed by failures of leadership which needed to be urgently addressed.

Sources close to the situation said Mr Mulvany was seeking to remove most of BenevolentAI’s existing board, including Dr Nader, and appoint a group of directors who would “aim to strengthen governance and accountability, invigorate the company’s business development, sharpen its strategic focus, offer clear market communication, and rebuild confidence among our investors and stakeholders”.

Mr Mulvany is said to be supportive of Joerg Moeller, who was appointed as chief executive earlier this year.

One insider said he had been left frustrated by a series of leadership vacuums in key executive roles during the past 12 months.

Mr Mulvany is understood to remain the largest shareholder in the company with a stake of over 23%, and believes it should be much more valuable as a listed business given its growth potential.

“It is with a clear vision for the transformative potential of BenevolentAI that I will seek shareholder support at the upcoming AGM,” he wrote.

“We are at the helm of an enterprise that has the potential to create breakthroughs in AI-driven drug discovery and development that become cornerstones of patient care.

“Let us unite in this endeavour, because it matters – to patients, to our shareholders, and the legacy we aspire to build.”

The public listing of BenevolentAI came after several rounds of funding as a private company.

Neil Woodford, the now-disgraced fund manager, was one of its key backers during its pre-IPO period.

A spokesman for Mr Mulvany declined to comment, while BenevolentAI has been contacted for comment.

Read original article here.

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