A British AI startup poached a longtime Google scientist to head up its new US office

BenevolentAI, a British pharmaceutical startup that uses artificial intelligence to identify new drug compounds, has poached a longtime research scientist from Google to head up its new US office in New York.

Keith Hall worked at Google for almost 10 years before becoming BenevolentAI’s principal natural language researcher in June. Dan Neil has also joined as lead machine learning researcher, and will grow the New York team with Hall. Neil was formerly at the Institute of Neuroinformatics in Zurich.

BenevolentAI was founded in 2013, and the company’s founder Ken Mulvany told Business Insider earlier this year he had raised $US87.7 million (£68 million) from investors including Woodford Investment Management, Lundbeck, Lansdowne Partners, and Upsher Smith, at a valuation of $US1.78 billion (£1.4 billion). The valuation makes BenevolentAI a rare British unicorn — a startup valued above $US1 billion — but its most recent filings show it’s a loss-making firm.

The firm uses artificial intelligence for the first stages on identifying possible cures or drug targets for rare diseases, including ALS and Alzheimer’s. It then sells those drug targets to larger firms, which take them into development.

Mulvany said in a statement: “The opening of a New York office demonstrates our commitment to expanding as a global company and underlines the importance of having a footprint in the US with the access to talent, innovation, and commercial opportunities that being connected to one of the world’s centres of technology provides.”

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