A Science employee at work in the lab.
Courtesy: Science Corporation
Biotechnology startup and Neuralink competitor Science on Monday launched a new platform that aims to make it easier for other companies to quickly develop and produce medical devices.
The platform, called Science Foundry, allows companies to utilize and build upon Science’s internal infrastructure by offering access to more than 80 of its tools and services, like the company’s thin-film electrode technologies.
The cost of the technology required to develop medical devices is often “prohibitive” for early-stage startups, Science Co-Founder and CEO Max Hodak told CNBC in an interview. Individual tools can cost anywhere from $200,000 to $2 million, and Hodak said companies could easily spend hundreds of millions building a manufacturing line.
For many startups, that cost is too much to bear, but Hodak is hoping Science Foundry can help.
“Hopefully, we bring down the barriers to innovation,” Hodak said. “There’s a bunch of smart people out there that have a bunch of different ideas than the ones that we have, and we would like to enable them.”
Science is part of the growing brain-computer interface, or BCI, industry. A BCI is a system that deciphers brain signals and translates them into commands for external technologies. Perhaps the best-known name in the space is Neuralink, thanks to the high profile of founder Elon Musk, who is also the CEO of Tesla, SpaceX 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 that is 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 serious blindness restore some visual input to their brains.
The Science Eye relies on a thin, flexible micro-LED array that is surgically implanted over the retina. The implant controls a group of light-sensitive cells in the optic nerve that Science alters through a form of 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 drive the nerve and send vision into the brain.
Science’s implant is powered by special glasses that are outfitted with tiny sensors and cameras. The LED array translates the images it receives from the glasses and sends them up 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 that it will be very restorative for patients with no light sensitivity. Eventually, he said thinks Science will be able to reproduce high-resolution color vision.
Science has been testing the technology in rabbits, and Hodak said the company hopes to eventually conduct trials with human patients as soon as next year.
The company’s new platform Science Foundry aims to support companies working on similarly ambitious ideas. Hodak said he expects to see demand from other neurotechnology companies, but that other medical technology startups and even quantum computing companies represent growth opportunities.
The cost of using Science Foundry is comparable to the cost of working with academic facilities, which are “cheap to get started,” Hodak said. But while academic facilities typically do not allow companies to test devices on patients or sell them on the market, Hodak said it will be easier for Science Foundry customers to commercialize their products.
Hodak said the platform will benefit Science and the broader industry as a whole.
“This enables us to afford larger-scale and more capabilities that then we can use to enable the community and ourselves even further,” he said.