Biotech startup and rival Neuralink Science launched a new platform on Monday that aims to make it easier for other companies to rapidly develop and manufacture medical devices.
The platform, called Science Foundry, allows companies to leverage and grow Science’s internal infrastructure, offering access to more than 80 of its tools and services, such as the company’s thin-film electrode technologies.
The cost of the technology needed to develop medical devices is often “outrageous” for early-stage startups, Science co-founder and CEO Max Hodak told CNBC. Individual tools can cost anywhere from $200,000 to $2 million, and Hodak said companies could easily spend hundreds of millions to build a production line.
For many startups, the cost is unsustainable, but Hodak hopes Science Foundry can help.
“Hopefully we will remove the barriers to innovation,” Hodak said. “There are a lot of smart people who have a lot of ideas that are different from ours, and we would like to bring them to life.”
Science is part of the growing industry of the brain-computer interface, or BCI. BCI is a system that decodes brain signals and translates them into commands for external technologies. Perhaps the best-known name in this space is Neuralink, thanks to its high status as a founder. Elon Muskwho is also the CEO TeslaSpaceX and Twitter.
Hodak co-founded Neuralink and served as the company’s president until he announced his departure in 2021. At Neuralink, Hodak helped develop a BCI system designed to be implanted directly into the brain, but at Science he is working on an implant that doesn’t directly touch the brain at all.
Science’s flagship BCI system is the Science Eye, a visual prosthesis that aims to help patients with two forms of severe blindness regain some visual input to the brain.
The Science Eye is based on a thin, flexible array of micro-LEDs that is surgically implanted into the retina. The implant controls a group of light-sensitive cells in the optic nerve that science modifies with optogenetic gene therapy. When one pixel is turned on in the array, a cell is turned on in the optic nerve, which can be used to control the nerve and send an image to the brain.
The science implant is powered by special glasses equipped with tiny sensors and cameras. The LED matrix converts the images received from the glasses and sends them to the optic nerve.
Hodak said the resulting images will look different than what people with healthy eyes are used to – at least for the first iteration of the technology – but it will be very restorative for patients without photosensitivity. Eventually, he believes, science will be able to reproduce high-resolution color vision.
Science is testing the technology in rabbits, and Hodak said the company hopes to eventually have human trials as early as next year.
Science Foundry’s new platform is designed to support companies working on similarly ambitious ideas. Hodak said he expects to see demand from other neurotech companies, but other medical technology startups and even quantum computing companies present growth opportunities.
The cost of using Science Foundry is comparable to the cost of working with academic institutions, which are “cheap to start with,” Hodak said. But while academic institutions generally don’t allow companies to test devices on patients or sell them on the market, Hodak said it would be easier for Science Foundry’s customers to commercialize their products.
Hodak said the platform will benefit science and the industry as a whole.
“This allows us to deliver larger and more value-added experiences that we can then use to further empower the community and ourselves,” he said.