Rice University’s Student Newspaper — Since 1916

Friday, April 19, 2024 — Houston, TX

Motif Neurotech startup secures $18.75M initial funding

Amelia Davis / Thresher

By Prasi Desai     2/13/24 10:13pm

Motif Neurotech, a start-up formed through the Biotech Launch Pad and founded by Rice professor Jacob Robinson, received $18.75 million from venture capital investors in Series A funding — one of the first major rounds of external funding for a start-up company. Motif was created to commercialize a pea-sized brain stimulator which was developed in Robinson’s lab at Rice to treat treatment-resistant depression.

Robinson said the device, implanted in the skull above the brain, stimulates the brain through electric currents in order to treat depression. The device has already been tested in pig models and has been shown to activate brain networks in humans at St. Luke’s hospital. 

According to Robinson, approximately a third of patients with a major depressive disorder have treatment-resistant depression, which means they don’t respond to two or more drugs. 

“In the mental health space, there are currently not many devices that are FDA approved,” Robinson said. “There’s a big unmet need.”

Sameer Sheth, the co-founder and chief medical officer of Motif, said the technology is advantageous in that it can be self-administered by patients at home, can be quickly implanted and is wireless. According to Sheth, the implant is an option outside of traditional treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy and medications, while not being as invasive as deep brain stimulation — an intensive surgical procedure that involves implanted electrodes in the brain. 

“This provides a middle ground that takes a little surgery but is likely to work much better than medications,” said Sheth, a professor in the neurosurgery department at Baylor College of Medicine. “It provides an option for a big swath of patients.”

Joshua Woods, a third year graduate student who’s been working on the technology since 2021, contributed to the electrical components of the device. The device is powered through an external transmitter in the form of a hat the patient wears while self-administering treatment, which eliminates the need for batteries in the implant, according to Woods. 

“We can just use it when we need to, and we’re not concerned about draining the power on it or having to replace it,” Woods said.

According to Woods, much of the recent funding will go towards early feasibility studies in humans with depression.

Motif’s Series A Funding came from both new and existing venture capital investors including Arboretum Ventures, Satori Neuro and Empath Ventures.

Brom Rector, the founder of Empath Ventures and a chartered financial analyst, said Empath believes there’s a need for new mental health solutions and has been an investor in Motif since December 2022.

“Motif’s implant tech represents a step-change in how we treat complicated and serious psychiatric issues,” Rector wrote in an email to the Thresher. 

According to Rector, Empath was impressed with Robinson’s capabilities in both science and business. 

“[Robinson] is one of those rare ones that once you meet, you just know you have to back,” Rector wrote. 

According to Robinson, the total cost of commercialization is estimated to be $100-200 million.

Faculty director of the Biotech Launch Pad Omid Veiseh said the accelerator aims to expedite the translation of discoveries at Rice to create the medicines of the future. According to Veiseh, Motif’s technology exemplifies the innovation they hope to foster in the Rice community. 

“It's a big win for patients,” Veiseh said. “It’s going to create a whole new class of medicines which currently don't exist.”

Robinson said he hopes Rice continues to bolster its support for commercializing technologies developed in the lab. 

According to Sheth, next steps will involve further testing and then eventually trying to gain coverage from insurance companies. Regarding the future of neural implants, Robinson said devices like Motif’s will likely become more common, likening the implant to a pacemaker for mental health issues. 

“We’re entering a time where, in the near future, we won’t think twice about a device that will help us when there are biological issues with our brain,” Robinson said. 

More from The Rice Thresher

NEWS 4/17/24 5:23pm
Jones wins men’s and women’s Beer Bike races, GSA snags alumni

Jones College won both the women’s and men’s Beer Bike 2024 races, while the Graduate Student Association claimed the alumni team win. Hanszen College bike teams were the runner-up in the alumni and men’s races, while Brown College was the runner-up in the women’s race. Martel and McMurtry Colleges did not bike in the alumni race, according to the Rice Program Council’s final report, and the GSA was disqualified from the men’s race for accidentally sending out two bikers simultaneously.

NEWS 4/16/24 11:08pm
Rice SJP hosts protest in response to S.RES 02 tabling

Rice Students for Justice in Palestine staged a  walkout and protest in response to the tabling of S.RES 02, a resolution that proposed a divestment of student funds to Israel-aligned companies, outside the Allen Center, April 12. The protest occurred during Owl Days, when prospective students were touring the campus.


Please note All comments are eligible for publication by The Rice Thresher.