Gates, Bezos back $75M round for Synchron's drill-free brain-computer interface implant

After announcing that it had implanted its brain-computer interface in its first U.S. paralysis patient earlier this year, Synchron has raised $75 million to take its mind-reading tech to the next level.

The company’s series C financing, led by ARCH Venture Partners, also drew investments from Bill Gates’ personal investment fund, Gates Frontier, as well as Jeff Bezos’ Bezos Expeditions. 

They were joined by new backers Reliance Digital Health Limited, Greenoaks, Alumni Ventures, Moore Strategic Ventures and Project X, alongside Synchron’s returning investors in Khosla Ventures, NeuroTechnology Investors, METIS, Forepont Capital Partners, ID8 Investments, Shanda Group and the University of Melbourne.

Synchron raised $40 million last year toward its goal of connecting tiny electrodes to the brain by threading them through the body’s blood vessels, with no skull drilling required. Dubbed the Stentrode approach, the company hopes the implants can one day restore communication among paralyzed patients, and even help them text, email or shop online.

“The problem of paralysis is much larger than people realize,” Synchron founder and CEO Tom Oxley said in a release. “100 million people worldwide have upper limb impairment.”

The latest round brings Synchron’s lifetime fundraising amount to $145 million, with the proceeds slated for a new pivotal clinical trial and the development of the company’s tech as a platform product for paralysis and other uses—such as a potential route for epilepsy therapy or as a way to map the brain after a traumatic injury.

The New York-based company launched a study involving its first U.S. patient this past June, after previous first-in-human and early feasibility trials in Australia. 

The U.S. trial—which will see Stentrodes placed on the surface of the brain’s motor cortex via the jugular vein, without needing to undergo open brain surgery—aims to see if the device can help people complete everyday tasks, with wireless signals allowing for hands-free pointing and clicking to type out messages or conduct telehealth appointments.

Meanwhile, brain-computer interface efforts led by another member of the top five richest men in the world, Elon Musk, continue to move forward. His Neuralink now claims to be six months away from launching human clinical trials of its own, though the company had also once set that goal for the end of 2020.

Neuralink’s technique involves removing a small, circular portion of bone and replacing it with a chip connected to the brain tissue by flexible, filament-like electrodes—which Musk has described as a “Fitbit for your skull”—and the chief of Tesla, Twitter and SpaceX said earlier this month that, one day, he’ll get the implant himself.

However, before it begins recruiting people, Neuralink will also face a federal investigation into its animal testing practices, following reports that roughly 1,500 animals, including sheep, monkeys and pigs, have died under the company’s care.

A report from Reuters identified four experiments involving 86 pigs and two monkeys that had been botched by human error—including one in which 25 pigs were reportedly implanted with the wrong size device and the experiment had to be repeated with 36 sheep, after which all involved animals were killed.