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Drug developer BenevolentAI faces founder-led board revolt

BenevolentAI, a UK-based drug developer, is facing a founder-led coup after seeing its shares plummet since its IPO just over two years ago.

Sky News has learned that Ken Mulvany, founder of artificial intelligence company in 2013, wrote to the chairman of BenevolentAI requesting the removal of most of its board of directors and the appointment of a new slate of directors – including himself as executive chairman.

The move represents a dramatic intervention by Mr Mulvany, more than 18 months after he resigned from his board following its listing on Amsterdam’s Euronext stock exchange.

Benevolent AI went public with a valuation of more than £1 billion by partnering with a special purpose acquisition company created by Michael and Yoel Zaoui, two of the most prominent investment bankers of their generation.

However, its shares have since collapsed by more than 90%, leaving it with a market valuation of less than €100 million.

Last fall, Baroness Shields, a former technology adviser to David Cameron, resigned as chief executive after a period of poor performance.

The company also laid off about half of its 360 employees.

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

Mr. Mulvany reiterated his confidence in the company’s previous achievements that demonstrated the potential of using AI to improve patient healthcare.

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Citing its partnerships with pharmaceutical giants AstraZeneca and Merck, it praised its “rich portfolio of drug candidate programs.”

He warned, however, that these problems were overshadowed by leadership failures that urgently needed to be addressed.

Sources familiar with the matter said Mr Mulvany was seeking to remove most of BenevolentAI’s current board, including Dr Nader, and appoint a group of directors who would “aim to strengthen governance and responsibility, to boost the company’s commercial development, to refine its strategic direction, to offer clear communication on the market and to restore trust between our investors and our stakeholders.

Mr Mulvany would support Joerg Moeller, who was appointed chief executive earlier this year.

One insider said he had been frustrated by a series of leadership voids in key executive positions over the past 12 months.

Mr Mulvany would remain the company’s largest shareholder with a stake of more than 23%, and believes it should be much more valuable as a listed company given its growth potential.

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

“We are leading a company that has the potential to create breakthroughs in AI-driven drug discovery and development that will become a cornerstone of patient care.

“Let’s come together in this endeavor because it matters – for patients, for our shareholders and for the legacy we aspire to build.”


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

Neil Woodfordthe now-disgraced fund manager, was one of its main backers during its pre-IPO period.

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

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