Toronto-based BenchSci, which helps pharmaceutical firms accelerate research and development (R&D) using artificial intelligence (AI), has secured $95 million CAD in Series D funding.
BenchSci plans to use this capital to expand its AI-powered drug-discovery platform. Using proprietary text and image-based machine learning machine (ML) models, BenchSci claims its ASCEND software enables scientists to accelerate the pace and increase the success of research during the pre-clinical drug-development process.
BenchSci has amassed a customer base that includes 16 of the world’s top 20 pharma firms.
The all-equity, all-primary round, which closed in early May, was led by Al Gore’s Generation Investment Management with support from existing BenchSci backers Inovia Capital, TCV, Golden Ventures, and F-Prime Capital, brings BenchSci’s total funding to $218 million. The fresh capital brings BenchSci’s total funding to $218 million.
In a statement, BenchSci co-founder and CEO Liran Belenzon hailed the company’s Series D round as “validation” of the work its team has done and the traction that BenchSci has generated with large pharma and biotech firms around the world. To date, BenchSci has amassed a customer base that includes 16 of the world’s top 20 pharma companies—from Eli Lilly to Sanofi, Moderna, and AstraZeneca—and more than 4,500 research centres globally.
Belenzon declined to disclose BenchSci’s Series D valuation or latest financial metrics to BetaKit, noting only that the company is “very happy” with the terms it received.
“We are lucky to be an outlier in this market,” he said.
As Belenzon noted, BenchSci previously closed $63 million in Series C financing in the fourth quarter of 2021, when the tech funding market was at an all-time high. At the time, BenchSci was gaining market traction with its AI-assisted reagent selection application, and developing ASCEND, its enterprise AI platform for life sciences R&D, which the company launched in early 2023.
“In the 15 months between our rounds, we transitioned from a startup to a scale-up,” Belenzon told BetaKit, claiming that the firm tripled its revenue, doubled its team size from 200 to 400, and brought its offering to three more big pharma firms.
Belenzon noted that while BenchSci has seen significant growth despite current economic conditions, many other tech and biotech companies have suffered. The CEO acknowledged leading public and late-stage private tech firms have experienced deep market-cap and valuation cuts, while pharma firms have sought to reduce costs.
Amid this environment, Belenzon said BenchSci decided the timing was right to raise more capital.
“More money in the bank will offset this risk without sacrificing our velocity as a company,” he added. “My sense and the advice I got from our investors was that what we are seeing in the market is just the beginning, and it will last for a few years, so there is really no point to wait and optimize for a better market.”
Canada currently houses a number of notable tech firms applying AI to drug discovery, including AbCellera and Deep Genomics. Unlike Deep Genomics, which uses AI directly to discover drug candidates, BenchSci views its platform as a tool for scientists working at other organizations.
“While AI has been making an impact in R&D over the past decade, it hasn’t scaled,” argued Belenzon. “We have seen many AI-first biotech companies that build a full-stack AI biotech that both competes and collaborates with pharmaceutical companies. We decided to democratize AI so we can help accelerate every single drug-discovery program in the world.”
“Previously, a scientist typically had to spend hundreds of hours to understand existing experiments and conclusions,” Generation Investment Management growth equity partner Anthony Woolf said in a statement. “With BenchSci’s models, scientists can find the same answer in minutes, accelerating drug discovery and reducing the time and cost to develop potentially life-saving drugs.”
UPDATE (05/26/23): This story has been updated to note responses from BenchSci co-founder and CEO Liran Belenzon.
Feature image courtesy BenchSci.