Musk approaches brain chip startup Synchron over deal amid Neuralink delays

Musk approaches brain chip startup Synchron over deal amid Neuralink delays

Tesla CEO Elon Musk watches as he visits the construction site of Tesla’s gigafactory in Gruenheide, near Berlin, Germany, May 17, 2021. REUTERS/Michele Tantussia

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Aug 19 (Reuters) – Elon Musk has announced brain chip implant developer Synchron Inc. approached about a potential investment as his own company Neuralink is catching up in the race to connect the human brain directly to machines, according to four people familiar with the case.

Musk has been in touch with Synchron founder and chief executive Thomas Oxley in recent weeks to discuss a potential deal, the sources said. It is not clear whether any transaction would involve a collaboration or collaboration between Synchron and Neuralink.

Based in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, Synchron is ahead of Neuralink in the process of gaining regulatory approval for its devices, the sources said. It has not decided whether it would accept an investment and no deal is certain, the sources added.

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The sources have asked for anonymity because the case is confidential.

Representatives from Musk and Neuralink did not respond to requests for comment. A Synchron spokesperson declined to comment.

The approach comes after Musk, who is also CEO of electric car maker Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) and rocket developer SpaceX, expressed frustration to Neuralink employees over their slow progress, said four current and former employees. That frustration was not conveyed to Oxley when Musk reached out to him, two of the sources added.

It’s not clear where Neuralink stands in its application to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to begin human trials. An FDA spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Musk said in a public presentation in 2019 that Neuralink, which he launched in 2016, aims to get regulatory approval by the end of 2020. He then said at a Wall Street Journal conference in late 2021 that he hoped to start human trials this year.

Founded in 2016, Synchron has developed a brain implant that does not require cutting into the skull to install, unlike Neuralink’s product. The goal is to help paralyzed patients control digital devices only with their minds.

Synchron reached an important milestone last month by implanting its device for the first time in a patient in the United States. It received FDA approval for human trials in 2021 and has completed studies in four people in Australia.

Synchron has about 60 employees and has raised about $65 million from investors to date, according to market research firm Pitchbook.

Neuralink is larger, with 300 employees spread across San Francisco and Austin, Texas. It has raised $363 million from investors to date, according to Pitchbook.

Only two of Neuralink’s eight founders have stayed with the company – Musk and implant engineer Dongjin “DJ” Seo, who has a leadership role. Max Hodak, who stepped down as president of Neuralink last year, is now an investor in Synchron. read more

Musk has approached Neuralink’s competitors in the past. In 2020, he held talks with brain technology company Paradromics Inc, according to three acquaintances with the matter. Musk subsequently gave up on those conversations, two of these sources added.

(This story is being re-archived to remove redundant “ands” in section 9)

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Reporting by Rachael Levy in Washington Editing by Greg Roumeliotis and Matthew Lewis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Rachel Levy

Thomson Reuters

Award-winning journalist on corporate governance. Her reporting has led to federal and congressional investigations and has been featured on television and podcasts. At Politico, her Covid-19 coverage caused the CDC to update guidelines for N95 masks and the hospital’s U.S. regulator to look up patient safety complaints. Formerly a financial reporter at the Wall Street Journal, her exclusive book on Trump White House’s Kodak drug deal won her and colleagues a 2021 Dateline Award from the Society of Professional Journalists.

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