Gates Frontier (Bill Gates’ investment fund) and Bezos Expeditions (Jeff Bezos’ investment fund) participated in the round. ARCH Venture Partners led the funding. Reliance Digital Health, Greenoaks, Alumni Ventures,Moore Strategic Ventures and Project X also joined.
Existing investors participating included Khosla Ventures, NeuroTechnology Investors, METIS, Forepont Capital Partners, ID8 Investments, Shanda Group and University of Melbourne. According to a news release, the Series C brings Synchron’s total fundraising to $145 million.
“We have an opportunity to deliver a first-in-class commercial BCI. The problem of paralysis is much larger than people realize. 100 million people worldwide have upper limb impairment,” said Dr. Tom Oxley, CEO & founder, Synchron. “We are extremely excited to work with ARCH and this world-class syndicate to bring this technology to the people who need it.”
New York-based Synchron develops the catheter-delivered Stentrode BCI implant. Company officials believe they represent the only BCI company tapping into blood vessels to capture signals from the brain.
The company believes its endovascular delivery method could make brain-computer interface technology simpler and safer. It could also offer more accessibility than the alternative option of invasive open-brain surgery.
Synchron’s plans for the funds
The company plans to use the funds to accelerate the development of Synchron Switch, its first platform product. Synchron also intends to launch a pivotal clinical trial. It currently has an ongoing U.S. clinical trial. The Command trial assesses the system’s impact on daily tasks such as texting, emailing, online shopping, and telehealth services.
Synchron Switch detects and wirelessly transmits motor intent out of the brain. This could restore the capability for severely paralyzed patients to control personal devices with hands-free point-and-click.
As part of the funding, Ari Nowacek from ARCH Venture Partners joins Synchron’s board. ARCH co-founder and Managing Director Robert Nelsen also joins as a board observer.
“At ARCH, our approach has always been to pair great science and technology with remarkable teams to build disruptive companies,” said Nelsen. “The technology we witnessed at Synchron is helping people with previously untreatable conditions regain connection to the world. It is an exciting time for neurotechnology.”
About the BCI space
Synchron represents one of the leaders in the burgeoning BCI space. Blackrock Neurotech, another competitor, develops the Utah Array. They’ve implanted it in patients since 2004 through research studies, with zero FDA-reported serious adverse events.
Another competitor comes in the form of Elon Musk’s Neuralink venture.
In August, Reuters reported that Musk approached Synchron over a potential investment. Musk’s Neuralink BCI company fell behind Synchron this past summer. This came after Synchron completed its first-in-human brain-computer interface (BCI) implant in the U.S.
Neuralink develops an implant placed in the brain through a robot-assisted procedure. While Musk and company officials said they planned to file for FDA approval for human trials in 2020, it remains without approval today. Earlier this year, Neuralink and the University of California, Davis, faced accusations of “egregious violations of the Animal Welfare Act” by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). They cited documents obtained through a public records lawsuit. The allegations claimed that Neuralink caused extreme suffering in monkeys.
Musk recently said the company plans for a first-in-human implant within the next six months. Shortly after a “show-and-tell” event, Neuarlink reportedly faced a U.S. Department of Agriculture Inspector General animal welfare investigation.