Cutting-edge Australian tech scale-up Synchron, which hopes to give paralysed people the power to control computers with their minds, has raised $110 million in a Series C.
Synchron is a clinical-stage endovascular (inside the blood vessel) brain-computer interface (BCI) company founded in 2016 by Dr Tom Oxley and Professor Nick Opie. It is based in Brooklyn, New York with R&D facilities in Melbourne.
The medtech startup has now raised A$212 million. The fresh capital is earmarked towards accelerated product development, facilitating start of a pivotal clinical trial, and then gaining market approval for its BCI as a treatment for paralysis.
Melbourne-based Prof. Opie has been working on the idea for more than a decade, developing a BCI platform that avoids the need for open brain surgery by using a minimally-invasive procedure.
He created the Synchron Switch BCI, which is implanted in the blood vessel on the surface of the motor cortex of the brain via the jugular vein. It is designed to detect and wirelessly transmit motor intent out of the brain, restoring a capability for severely paralysed patients to control personal devices with hands-free point-and-click.
The Synchron Switch device received US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Breakthrough Device Designation in 2020, which allowed them to speed up clinical trials. The first US patient received the implant in July this year at Mount Sinai in New York. The first Australian received one in 2020 at Royal Melbourne Hospital, with four locals now using the implanted device.
Synchron has an ongoing US clinical trial assessing the impact on daily tasks such as texting, emailing, online shopping, and telehealth services.
The A$110 million (US$75m) Series C was led by Chicago VC ARCH Venture Partners, with the eponymously named funds of Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos – Gates Frontier and Bezos Expeditions – signing on, along with Reliance Digital Health, Greenoaks, Alumni Ventures, Moore Strategic Ventures, and Project X.
Existing backers Khosla Ventures, NeuroTechnology Investors, METIS, Forepont Capital Partners, ID8 Investments and Shanda Group chipped in once again. Khosla founder Vinod Khosla introduced Dr Oxley to Gates.
The Synchron cofounder had dinner with Bezos in March this year, a meal that ended with the Amazon boss keen to back what many sees as a key rival Elon Musk’s Neuralink. (US federal authorities are currently investigating allegations of animal cruelty against Neuralink).
Dr Oxley, Synchron’s CEO, said BCI has the potential to change millions of lives.
“We have an opportunity to deliver a first-in-class commercial BCI,” he said
“The problem of paralysis is much larger than people realise – 100 million people worldwide have upper limb impairment. We are extremely excited to work with ARCH and this world-class syndicate to bring this technology to the people who need it.”
ARCH cofounder and MD Robert Nelsen said the VC’s goal is to pair great science and technology with remarkable teams to build disruptive companies.
“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,” he said