Investors and MedTechs Rush to Fund BCI Startups
by Jo Jo Platt, contributing editor
July 2021 issue
Investor interest in funding startup and early-stage vendors of implanted brain devices continued to flourish in recent weeks. Coming on the heels of Peter Thiel’s and re.Mind Capital’s $10 million investment in Blackrock Neurotech [NBR May21 p2], Elon Musk’s Neuralink earlier this month announced a $205 million series C round led by Vy Capital, with participation from Google Ventures, DFJ Growth, Valor Equity Partners, Craft Ventures, Founders Fund, and Gigafund.
Coupled with previous investments of $70 million across Synchron, Paradromics, and Blackrock, this funding activity indicates that the interest in implantable devices to achieve optimal signal acquisition remains strong. Wearables, while certainly appealing and valuable, seem to represent a device equivalent of over the counter options, while implantables offer the more intense, prescription-like solutions. Sometimes, an aspirin just doesn’t cut it. With implantables, investigators will be able to learn and do more in a shorter time span while wearables can attract casual and consumer users while addressing conditions that can be manipulated closer to the surface. A number of prominent entrepreneurs joined the Neuralink funding round. These include Robert Nelson, co-founder of ARCH Venture Partners; Blake Byers, founder of Byers Capital; Sam Altman, chairman of YC Group and CEO of OpenAI; Fred Ehrsam, co-founder of Paradigm and Coinbase; and Ken Howery, co-founder of PayPal and Founders Fund.
For its part, Paradromics announced a $20 million seed funding round led by Prime Movers Lab, including investment from Westcott Investment Group, Dolby Family Ventures, Synergy Ventures, Pureland Global Venture, IT-Farm, and Alpha Edison. The company’s first commercial product, the Connexus Communication Device, will restore communication for patients who have lost the ability to speak due to severe paralysis. Last year, Paradromics successfully completed testing of its platform, demonstrating the largest ever electrical recording of cortical activity that exceeded more than 30,000 electrode channels in sheep cortex.
“We are combining the best of neural science and medical device engineering to create a robust and reliable platform for new clinical therapies,” said Paradromics CEO Matt Angle. “This funding round is a validation of both our technology and strategic vision in leading this important developing market.”
Meanwhile, Blackrock Neurotech continued its ambitious efforts to capitalize on its early lead in implanted BCI technology. The company announced a joint agreement with ClearPoint Neuro, Inc., a vendor of neurosurgical navigation tools, to develop an automated surgical solution for implanting BCIs into patients. This partnership will seek to leverage ClearPoint’s platform and software to deliver, for the first time, a clinical solution for surgeons that is more streamlined and effective than other BCI implantation surgeries performed to date.
“The challenge of making people walk, talk, move and feel again is an enormous one,” said Marcus Gerhardt, co-founder and CEO of Blackrock Neurotech. “To make this vision a reality, we believe in partnering and collaborating with the best in the field. We are excited that ClearPoint is joining us in this endeavor to provide their expertise in navigation and surgical processes to create an integrated solution.” “The partnership with Blackrock will allow us to leverage our expertise in neuro-navigation and robotic delivery to create a system capable of assisting surgeons to implant these BCI arrays in a predictable and replicable manner,” said Joe Burnett, president and CEO of ClearPoint.
Under the agreement, Blackrock will help fund the development of this new surgical solution, which will leverage the ClearPoint platform and growing global installed base. Blackrock’s recent infusion of capital from re.Mind Capital and others was designed to accelerate enrollment in clinical trials, advance surgical procedures such as this, and prepare for a commercial launch across multiple clinical indications.
Last month, Synchron Inc. announced a $40 million investment round led by Khosla Ventures [NBR Jun21 p3]. The FDA recently approved its IDE for a feasibility study of its Stentrode motor neuroprosthesis.