Home Health Funds raised to commercialise 'bionic eye' project

Funds raised to commercialise 'bionic eye' project

Retinal implant maker Bionic Vision Technologies (BVT) has raised US$18 million from Hong Kong entities China Huarong International Holdings and State Path Capital to commercialise a device aimed at restoring sight to the blind.

Thus far the development of what is referred to as Australia's "bionic eye" has been financed through a $50 million Special Research Initiative grant administered by the Australian Research Council.

The consortium members of Bionic Vision Australia, who will become shareholders in the new company, are: the University of Melbourne, the University of New South Wales, the Bionics Institute, Centre for Eye Research Australia, CSIRO's Data 61, The Royal Victorian Eye & Ear Hospital, Western Sydney University and the Australian College of Optometry.

A statement from BVT said it would use the new funding to manufacture devices and begin a human clinical trial of its "bionic eye" implant in people who had the degenerative condition known as retinitis pigmentosa.

BVT’s bionic eye is claimed to have advantages over competitors, including "a superior surgical approach, stability of the device, and unique vision processing software that potentially improves the patient’s experience".

BVT's implant is placed at the back of the eye where it stimulates the surviving nerve cells in the retina with electrical signals created from images collected by a camera that is worn externally. The next stage of clinical trials are scheduled to begin in Melbourne shortly.

The company said: "Based on the results of the initial trial in 2012-2014, further patients will be recruited and monitored for up to two years. Patients will be surgically implanted with a permanent device to wear in their everyday activities. Early trials of the device only monitored patients in the clinic. Researchers will measure mobility and independence."

State Path Capital chairman Alastair Lam said: "Given BVT's commitment to developing and delivering a revolutionary solution for vision loss, we believe its ‘bionic eye’ technology has the potential to transform the lives of millions of people and meet a large unmet need. Our investment support will help move the current product closer to market and the communities who will benefit.

"Our investment in BVT aligns with our strategy of backing transformative new technology with significant global potential."

BVT executive chairman Robert Klupacs said: "This investment is an important milestone for our unique Australian technology and an endorsement of our approach to making a positive impact on global health. These new funds will help create an innovative, solution to potentially help improve the lives of blind people.
 
"The funding will propel this Australian technology into clinical trials in coming months as we work towards securing regulatory approval and a commercial launch in key markets where loss of vision is a significant medical burden."

Shelley Copsey, commercialisation leader for CSIRO's Data61, told iTWire that while two competing products were already in the market, the BVT solution was deemed to be better because of the computer vision processing hardware that had been developed.

She added that this hardware was in the main what Data61 had contributed to the project.

An American company, Second Sight, and a French firm, Pixium, are the two competitors which with BVT will have to contend.

Data61 was set up in 2016 as a business unit of the CSIRO and has about 1000 staff. It is involved in data and digital research.

Copsey said that once sales began, a portion of the revenue would make its way to Data61, adding that the proportional division of revenue was confidential and based on the contributions made by the various organisations involved in the bionic eye project.

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.