BionX, a spinout from MIT working on an advanced bionic ankle system, announced $17 million in new financing Wednesday to close out the year, planning to raise an additional $8 million by the end of March. The round is led by Chinese fund ZGC Shiner Investment, who will help push BionX into the Chinese market.
“We are very excited about our new partnership through this investment. We are also eager to witness the successful integration of BionX’s products into the Chinese market, benefiting the disabled population of China while advancing BionX to its next level,” said Hao He, CEO of ZGC Shiner Investment. BionX president and CEO Dr. Charles S. Carignan referred to them as a strategic partner in “a market with enormous potential.”
The BionX name is actually new, though their old brand BiOM remains the name of its flagship product, the BiOM Ankle, one of the most advanced prosthetics models in the world. The propulsion-powered ankle is designed to mimic normal ankle movements and compensate for lost muscles, literally taking the weight off other limbs that amputees intuitively depend on even with prosthetics. It also purportedly adjusts to any surface.
The new round brings their total funding to more than $72 million. Their last major round back in 2012 was also $17 million. The company already counts WFD Ventures, General Catalyst Partners, Sigma Partners, and Gilde Healthcare Partners among its investors.
Market, customers, advances
While the market for lower limb prosthetics is often associated with combat veterans, BionX makes a point to show its primary market is people affected by vascular diseases like diabetes and peripheral arterial disease (PAD). Still, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the U.S. Army’s Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC) have both invested in BionX and other state-of-the-art bionics research, hopefully ahead of integrating prosthetics into conventional treatment plans for injured vets. BionX already has agreements with the Department of Defense (DoD) and workers compensation networks for reimbursements. They’re working on getting coverage for their treatments from Medicare and Medicaid as well.
The market for prosthetics is growing in large part thanks to major advances in computing and invasive biotechnological techniques. Transparency Market Research puts the value of the bionics industry at over $20 billion by 2021. While BionX isn’t integrating their current product with the peripheral or central nervous system, that angle as a promising future in the next few years. Dr. Daniel Furman of the Technion told Geektime that there are a few things driving advances in the industry.
“The largest is computing power, as it speeds up the ability to analyze brain activity in real-time, which speeds things up exponentially. We’re doing things online that haven’t been possible before. Adding extremities to humans, being able to interact with these in real-time is essential.”
Originally known as iWalk, BionX was founded in 2007 by CTO Dr. Hugh Herr of the Biomechatronics Group of MIT’s Media Laboratory. Senior staff includes CEO Dr. Charles S. Carignan, CFO David Reissfelder and VP R&D Mark Chiappetta. The company is looking to expand its sales and engineering staff.