Musk approached brain chip startup Synchron about Neuralink deal amid delays

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is seen visiting the construction site of Tesla’s Gigafactory in Grünheide, near Berlin, Germany, on May 17, 2021. Reuters / Michelle Tantucci

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

Sources said Musk has reached out to Synchron’s founder and chief executive Thomas Oxley in recent weeks to discuss a potential deal. It is not clear whether any transaction will involve an alliance or collaboration between Synchron and Neuralink.

Synchron, which is based in New York City, Brooklyn, is ahead of Neuralink in the process of securing regulatory approval for its devices, the sources said. Sources said it is not certain whether it will accept the investment or not and no deal is certain.

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The sources requested anonymity as the matter is confidential.

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

The approach comes after Musk, who is also the chief executive officer of electric car maker Tesla Inc (TSLA.o) and rocket developer SpaceX, expressed frustration to Neuralink employees over their slow progress, four current and former employees said. Two sources said Oxley had not been made aware of that disappointment when Musk contacted them.

It is unclear where Neuralink stands in its application with 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 2019 public presentation that Neuralink, which he launched in 2016, aimed to achieve regulatory approval by the end of 2020. He then told a Wall Street Journal conference in late 2021 that he expected human trials to begin this year.

Founded in 2016, Synchron has developed a brain implant that, unlike Neuralink’s product, will not require cutting into the skull to be installed. Its goal is to help paralyzed patients operate digital devices with their brains alone.

Synchron passed a major milestone last month by implanting its device in a patient for the first time in the United States. It received FDA approval for human trials in 2021 and completed a study on four people in Australia.

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

Neuralink is bigger, with 300 employees split between San Francisco and Austin, Texas. According to PitchBook, it has raised $363 million from investors so far.

Of the eight founders of Neuralink, only two have remained with the company – Musk and implant engineer Dongjin “DJ” Seo, who holds a leadership role. Max Hodak, who stepped down as chairman 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 discussions with brain technology company Paradromix Inc., according to three people familiar with the matter. Musk later abandoned those talks, two of these sources said.

(This story is refined to remove the extraneous “and” in paragraph 9)

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

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Rachel Levy

Thomson Reuters

Award winning journalist covering corporate governance. Her reporting has prompted federal investigations and congressional investigations and is featured on television and podcasts. In Politico, its COVID-19 coverage has caused the CDC to update guidance on N95 masks and the US hospital regulator to look into patient safety complaints. Formerly a financial reporter at the Wall Street Journal, her particular account of the Trump White House’s Kodak drug deal won her and her colleagues the 2021 Dateline Award from the Society of Professional Journalists.

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