Medtronic PLC yesterday revealed a robot-assisted surgical platform that it said will be upgradeable, modular, and able to support laparoscopic applications. In an investor meeting, the company positioned its system as being more flexible and cost-effective than those currently available, in a direct challenge to market leader Intuitive Surgical Inc.’s da Vinci SP platform.
The company, which is the world’s largest medical device supplier and has offices in Minneapolis and Dublin, Ireland, acquired Mazor Robotics for $1.7 billion in December 2018. Medtronic noted that its robotic surgical system is still in the investigational phase of development, with plans to launch it in 2020 and get European and U.S. regulatory approval in 2021.
In the investor call, Medtronic said that the modularity of its new system addresses the low adoption and utilization rates of surgical robots. Conventional systems for robot-assisted surgery take up a lot of room and are costly per procedure.
Only 2% of surgical procedures worldwide are currently conducted with robots, asserted Bob White, executive vice president at Medtronic. “There’s 98% out there that needs to be done via robotically-assisted surgery, but not today because of the cost and utilization burdens,” said White, who is president of the Medtronic’s Minimally Invasive Therapies Group.
Medtronic surgical robot features
Even before the investor meeting, a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing revealed some details — and a host of pictures. The meeting included a demonstration of the system in a prostatectomy on a cadaver.
The surgical robot system includes a tower, surgeon console, surgical end effectors, and robotic arm carts. Medtronic said they have the following features:
- Modularity — The arms and other parts of the system are modular and are on wheels, allowing for flexibility when it comes to placement in a crowded operating room. A surgeon could complete a procedure with an arm, push it out of the way, and start a laparoscopic procedure still using the tower, for example. After the surgery, hospital staff could undrape the system and roll it into a second sterilized and prepped OR so that the surgeon could quickly start a new surgery after a break. Because the arms are modular, a hospital could split up the arms for use in different procedures at the same time.
- Universal use — The tower and its visualization system, generator, processors, and endoscope are meant to support both robot-assisted surgery and laparoscopic applications, plus even open surgery. For instance, the endoscope is a standard length. The FT10 generator powering the robotic system is the same type of generator powering laparoscopic and open surgery devices.
- Upgradeable — Medtronic designed its product so that health providers can swap in new components, generators, etc. as they become available without having to buy an entirely new system. The company said it also has a pipeline of software applications and features that it will continually roll out.
- An open console — The surgical console design boasts an open architecture with foot pedals so that surgeons can still interact with the patient and OR staff during procedures. In addition, three-dimensional, high-definition glasses can provide an immersive experience for clinicians.
- Drawing on existing surgical tool expertise — Medtronic said it is taking advantage of the expertise and intellectual property from its existing instrumentation portfolio, which makes sense because the system’s accessories could be a big revenue source for the company. Doctors consulting for Medtronic said that they also like that the surgical tools are familiar.
“In 10 years, not only this robot, but [also] other robots we have going will change the face of surgery,” said Omar Ishrak, who will be stepping down as Medtronic CEO. He will be succeeded by Geoff Martha, who has served as executive vice president.
Medtronic executives declined to specify a price or date of availability for the new system in the U.S., since it is pending regulatory approvals.
White said Medtronic won’t “give the robot away” to health providers, but he’d like to see the company drive procedure costs for the system down to levels similar to those of laparoscopic systems.
The Robot Report is launching the Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum, which will be on Dec. 9-10 in Santa Clara, Calif. The conference and expo will focus on improving the design, development, and manufacture of next-generation healthcare robots. Learn more about the Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum, and registration is now open.