(Bloomberg) -- A new brain science company co-created by a founding team member of Elon Musk’s Neuralink is raising millions of dollars to implant small electronic devices inside human skulls.
Precision Neuroscience Corp. plans to announce on Wednesday that it raised $41 million dollars to develop brain implants targeting intractable diseases like epilepsy. That’s on top of $12 million the New York-based company has already amassed — a signal that investors are still excited about brain technology startups despite the larger tech downturn.
Precision was co-founded by Benjamin Rapoport, a member of the founding team at Musk’s high-profile brain company Neuralink Corp. Rapoport left Neuralink in 2018 and started Precision Neuroscience in 2021 alongside Michael Mager, a veteran private equity investor.
Precision aims to place sensors just under people’s skulls — on top of brain tissue but not penetrating it — and to use the implants to treat neurological conditions. The startup joins a host of companies in the emerging field of brain-computer interfaces, a sector that raised $274 million last year, according to PitchBook data. That compares with $170 million five years earlier.
Musk’s Neuralink is the most famous company in the sector. At a presentation in the fall, Musk said that he expected the first Neuralink device would be in a human skull in about six months, though the company has missed several earlier targets. Neuralink’s technology promises to let people with paralysis control an external machine such as a keyboard directly from their brains.
Precision’s device would be less invasive. It would require minimal surgery to the skull, with a small slit — about 2 centimeters across and 400 microns wide — made in the bone so doctors could slip through a group of sensors called an array. The device would be located under a protective membrane known as the dura, on top of actual brain tissue. A tiny collection of wires would run through the slit and connect the sensors to circuitry that in its final version would sit outside the skull, but under the skin.
“The approaches I like are the noninvasive or minimally invasive technologies,” said Eric Attias at Forepont Capital Partners, who led the funding round for Precision and is taking a board seat. “They can go fast to market.”
Attias is also an investor in Synchron, a company that seeks to implant devices in the brain via blood vessels, without any surgery to the brain itself.
One persistent question among startups is whether to penetrate brain tissue. Implanting chips there carries risks, but proponents say the capabilities it allows makes it worthwhile. The closer the chips can get to neurons, the more accurately they can target them.
Neurosurgeons who favor a less invasive approach say they can get the detail they need in other ways. In Precision Neuroscience’s case, Mager, the chief executive officer, said the device is close enough to brain tissue to perform at a high level.
“The electrodes are literally touching the brain,” Mager said. “There’s nothing between the brain tissue and the electrodes themselves.” These specialized electrodes are sensors — not the power-hungry type of chips used in mobile phones or computers. Their brain-surface positioning means Precision’s implant would be relatively simple to remove, which gives the company access to a more streamlined regulatory process, he said.
The new funds will help Precision move through that regulatory process and toward its first implant in a human, which it will apply for this year, Mager said. So far, Precision has successfully tested its device in pigs. Eventually the company believes it could treat conditions such as epilepsy, stroke, dementia and traumatic brain injuries.
Last year, Precision hired Alphabet Inc.’s Craig Mermel as chief product officer and Apple Inc.’s Dan Trietsch as principal software architect. The venture arm of Mubadala Capital also joined the funding round.
--With assistance from Ian King.
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