Musk approaches brain chip startup Synchron over deal amid Neuralink delays, sources say

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The Neuralink logo displayed on a phone screen and Elon Musk’s Twitter account displayed on a screen in the background are seen in this illustration photo taken in Poland on April 24, 2022.

Jakub Porzycki | Nurphoto | Getty Images

Elon Musk has approached brain chip implant developer Synchron about a potential investment as his own company Neuralink catches up in the race to connect the human brain directly to machines, according to four people familiar with the matter.

Musk has reached out to Synchron founder and chief executive Thomas Oxley in recent weeks to discuss a potential deal, the sources said. It is unclear whether any transaction would involve a tie-up or collaboration between Synchron and Neuralink.

Synchron, which is based in the Brooklyn borough of New York, is ahead of Neuralink in the process of obtaining regulatory clearance for its devices, the sources said. It has not decided whether it will accept an investment and no deal is certain, the sources added.

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 chief executive of electric car maker Tesla Inc and rocket developer SpaceX, expressed frustration to Neuralink employees over their slow progress, four current and former employees said. That frustration was not conveyed to Oxley when Musk contacted him, two of the sources added.

It’s unclear where Neuralink is in its application to the US Food and Drug Administration 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, was aiming to receive regulatory approval by the end of 2020. He later said at a Wall Street Journal conference in late 2021 that he hoped to begin human trials this year.

Founded in 2016, Synchron has developed a brain implant that wouldn’t require cutting out the skull to install, unlike Neuralink’s product. His goal is to help paralyzed patients and operate digital devices with their minds alone.

Synchron reached a major milestone last month by implanting its device in a patient for the first time in the United States. It received FDA clearance for human trials in 2021 and has completed four-person studies in Australia.

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

Neuralink is larger, with 300 employees split between San Francisco and Austin, Texas. It has so far raised $363 million from investors, according to Pitchbook.

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

Musk has already approached Neuralink competitors. In 2020, he had discussions with brain technology company Paradromics Inc, according to three people familiar with the matter. Musk later dropped out of those talks, two of those sources added.

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