Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) recently said its medical device business paid an undisclosed amount to acquire French robot-assisted surgery company Orthotaxy. Founded in 2009, Orthotaxy’s proprietary technology is currently in early-stage development for total and partial knee replacements.
J&J plans to expand Orthotaxy’s technology into other orthopedic surgeries as part of its bid to create a new robot-assisted platform using “enabling technologies to personalize procedures, optimize surgery and bring value to customers and patients.”
“Our goal is to bring to market a robotic-assisted surgery technology that is an integral part of a comprehensive orthopedics platform, delivering value to patients, physicians and healthcare providers across the episode of care,” DePuy Synthes chairman Ciro Rӧmer said in a statement. “The team at Orthotaxy has significant expertise and passion in developing this platform, and we aspire to bring to market a differentiated technology that helps improve clinical outcomes and increases patient satisfaction.”
Robot-Assisted Knee Surgery
Are knee replacements the next big market for robotic-assisted surgery? Perhaps. According to the US Department of Health & Human Services, there are approximately 700,000 knee replacements performed each year in the United States. This number is projected to increase to 3.48 million procedures per year by 2030.
There are other surgical robots already in this space. For example, Stryker’s Mako surgical robot won FDA approval in August 2015 to be used for total knee replacement procedures. As of March 2017, Mako had been used in more than 1,400 procedures throughout 65 hospitals in the U.S., U.K., Australia and Germany. The Mako robot can also be used in partial knee replacement procedures.
And in June 2017 Smith & Nephew added a total knee replacement application to its Navio handheld robot-assisted platform. Smith & Nephew acquired Minnesota-based Blue Belt Technologies – Navio’s original maker – in January 2016 for $275 million. Blue Belt won its first FDA clearance in 2012, for a partial knee replacement system then called the NavioPFS.
The most popular robot surgical system to date is Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci, which made its name helping surgeons perform prostatectomies. Of the 90,000 radical prostatectomies performed each year in the US, an estimated 70,000 are performed with the help of robots.
So J&J is targeting a much bigger market with the Orthotaxy acquisition. Now it just has to develop the technology properly.
Check-up on Verb Surgical
In addition to its in-house robotics program, J&J is in a joint venture with Alphabet‘s (NSDQ:GOOGL) Verily Life Sciences called Verb Surgical, which debuted its prototype early in 2017. Alex Gorskey, J&J chairman and CEO, said in mid-2017 that Verb Surgical was “on track” with its development timeframe.
“We are quite excited about our computerized surgery program. Everything up to this point in time is on track. We’re continuing to make really good progress,” Gorsky said. “We think that there’s an opportunity there not to just actually improve the surgery itself [but to] bring data to bear in the operating room, having much more flexibility and modularity in the system that we would introduce.”
At DeviceTalks West 2016, the premier industry event for the medtech community produced by our sister publication MassDevice.com, Verb Surgical CEO Scott Huennekens said the company thinks of its offering as “Surgery 4.0.”
“We’re not a robotics company. We’re a platform company. There will be robotics – which are a key element – but also advanced instrumentation, advanced visualization, data analytics and machine learning,” Huennekens told us. “In the worlds of surgery, there was open surgery – that was Surgery 1.0. Then there was laparoscopic surgery – 2.0. Robotic surgery – 3.0. We think in terms of this new era of digital surgery, which is to say that robotics is a tool. It will be used on open surgeries, laparoscopic surgeries. Data analytics and machine learning, again, working on open and laparoscopic procedures as a tool.”