- The investment arms of billionaires Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates joined a $75 million investment round in Synchron, a Brooklyn-based firm building a brain-computer interface for people who are paralyzed below the neck.
- The investment will fund clinical trials and further development of the device, which is inserted into the brain through the jugular vein, removing the need for invasive surgery.
- Synchron implanted its first BCI in a U.S. patient in July, while Twitter CEO Elon Musk’s BCI startup, Neuralink, said it expects to test its technology on humans by mid-2023.
Synchron’s “Switch” BCI is implanted in a blood vessel on the surface of the brain’s motor cortex through a minimally-invasive procedure that threads the device up the jugular vein to the brain. Once implanted, it can detect and wirelessly transmit what Synchron calls “motor intent” from the brain, enabling people with severe paralysis to control computers and smart phones with hands-free point-and-click technology.
“The problem of paralysis is much larger than people realize,” Tom Oxley, Synchron’s founder and CEO, said in a statement. “100 million people worldwide have upper limb impairment.”
The investment, a Series C, was led by ARCH Venture Partners and brings the total raised since inception to $145 million, Synchron said. The funding will help the firm speed development of the device and fund a key clinical trial.
An ongoing clinical trial, called COMMAND, is assessing the impact of the device on daily tasks, including texting, emailing, online shopping and telehealth services. Synchron won Breakthrough Device designation from the Food and Drug Administration in August, 2020 and secured an Investigational Device Exemption in July 2021.
Human clinical trials also are underway in Australia and the University of Melbourne took part in the recent fundraising round.
Musk’s firm is currently the target of a federal investigation into mistreatment of animals on which it has been experimenting with CBI’s, Reuters reported earlier this month.
In a recent article in The New York Times on CBIs including Musk’s Neuralink, Cristin Welle, a University of Colorado neuroscientist, noted that device makers will have to “surmount the challenge of operating electronics for years in the soggy milieu of the brain,” and will need to prove that the device “doesn’t generate heat or current that unduly injures the delicate brain tissue.”