January 27, 2023

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The team behind Apple’s Face ID is developing tiny robots to deliver drugs to the brain

The team behind Apple’s Face ID is developing tiny robots that deliver drugs into the brain, controlled by magnetic drives, to fight hard-to-treat diseases.

Los Angeles-based Bionaut Labs raised $43.2 million in a second round of funding led by Khosla Ventures to fund initial clinical trials to try to prove the robots are safe and effective are.

Seven new investors, including Israel’s Deep Insight and Canada’s Sixty Degree Capital, joined the round.

The company begins trials of dispensing drugs to treat a type of brain tumor and a rare pediatric neurological condition called Dandy-Walker syndrome, in which the robot is used to drill a hole in a cyst.

It eventually hopes to tackle more difficult and common diseases like Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, Alzheimer’s and stroke.

Michael Shpigelmacher, Managing Director of Bionaut, co-founded the company with Aviad Maizels because he wanted to do something “more meaningful” than consumer electronics. The couple co-founded PrimeSense, an Israeli 3D sensor company, which they sold to Apple in 2013 for about $400 million.

Shpigelmacher said the remote-controlled robots have the potential to become a “platform” that paves the way to treating diseases in the brain’s “holy grail,” via the central nervous system and beyond. The robots could also be used to diagnose diseases by taking biopsies.

“There are so many places in the body that science cannot easily reach today,” he added.

The robots – a few millimeters long and equipped with a powerful micro-magnet – would be injected at the back of the head. Then, using an external control system, it would be propelled by magnetic fields to the target area to release a drug and then return to the needle for extraction.

Shpigelmacher said his “aha moment” came when he realized that even when we’re trying to treat something very local, drugs were always getting spread throughout the body and risking widespread side effects.

“It didn’t make sense to me as a roboticist. Robotics is about accelerating the world around you in precise ways,” he said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted Bionaut Labs Humanitarian Use Device designation and Orphan Drug designation to accelerate its path through clinical trials.

The company conducted animal tests to optimize the size and speed of the mini-robots to ensure they didn’t damage tissue.

Iahn Cajigas González, a professor of neurosurgery at the University of Pennsylvania, said that when he first heard about the device, he was “incredulous” that it would actually work.

“When I hear about a technology, my biggest concern is: will it be used safely? And everything I’ve seen visiting their facilities shows that they really are very meticulous at every stage of the way. So I think it would fill a very important niche,” he said.

Samir Kaul, founding partner at Khosla Ventures, said the long-term opportunity is “massive.”

He said Shpigelmacher works closely with experts. But he added that it’s an advantage that he doesn’t have a medical background.

“Elon Musk wasn’t an auto executive, Brian Chesky wasn’t from Hilton, Travis Kalanick wasn’t in cabs. Sometimes big disruptions have to come from outside,” he added.