Biotech Cortical Labs closes $15m oversubscribed funding round led by Horizon Ventures

Biotech Cortical Labs closes $15m oversubscribed funding round led by Horizon Ventures

Cortical Labs CEO and founder Hon Weng Chong (provided).

An Australian biotech looking to create a new class of artificial intelligence (AI) by using clusters of human brain cells has today closed an oversubscribed US$10 million (AUD $14.9 million) funding round to accelerate the commercialisation of its technology.

Melbourne-based Cortical Labs secured the funding from lead investor Horizons Ventures, which has previously backed Australian success stories such as Airwallex, Harrison.ai and Spaceship. Other investors include Blackbird Ventures, LifeX Ventures, Radar Ventures and In-Q-Tel.

As part of the investment, Horizons Ventures venture capital investor Jonathan Tam will join Cortical Labs’ board as the company pushes ahead with the development of its novel AI solution.

Founded in 2019, Cortical Labs is flipping the traditional approach to AI on its head - starting with the human brain rather than attempting to make digital models that emulate the organ.

The company uses clusters of lab-cultivated neurons from human stem cells to form a ‘DishBrain’, which is integrated into Cortical’s patented ‘Biological Intelligence Operating System’ (biOS) with a mixture of hard silicon and soft tissue.

A render of Cortical Labs' 'CL1' system (provided)
A render of Cortical Labs' 'CL1' system (provided)

 

On paper, the premise is like a sci-fi film come to life, but the company has already had a significant breakthrough with its AI research.

Last year, Cortical Labs published a paper in scientific journal Neuron titled ‘In vitro neurons learn and exhibit sentience when embodied in a simulated game-world’.

This paper demonstrated that, if given the right stimulus and rewards, neurons in a petri dish can be encouraged to play the computer game Pong - bringing together the disparate worlds of AI and synthetic biology.

“The possibilities that a hybridised AI meets synthetic biology model can unlock are limitless, accelerating the possibilities of digital AI in a more powerful and more sustainable way,” Cortical Labs CEO and founder Hon Weng Chong said.

“Our technology will shape and drive the next frontier of AI, and with this new round of capital, we are thrilled to keep accelerating research and development to bring the DishBrain to market this year.”

A render of a stack of CL1 systems (provided)
A render of a stack of CL1 systems (provided)

 

Horizon Ventures’ Tam said the ‘mind-blowing’ technology could usher in a revolution in personalised medicine and disease detection, among other applications.

“What is mind-blowing about Cortical Labs’ groundbreaking technology is its approach in delivering powerful computing throughput with lower energy needs,” Tam said.

“Ultimately, by being able to use these systems to better understand, and eventually harness, how neurons display intelligence, it will open up a plethora of applications, including a revolution in personalised medicine and disease detection.”

The company hopes that the biOS system could be used to test new drugs and therapies that affect the central nervous system.

This will be achieved via the commercial development of the biotech’s ‘Cortical Labs 1’ (CL1) system that will enable novel in-vitro cognitive testing for the life-sciences industry.

Cortical Labs has already secured UK-based biotech bit.bio for the commercialisation and research of CL1 along with the company's academic partners at the Organoid Intelligence alliance spearheaded by Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, US.

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