Being a doctor is a well-paid profession, but the highest earning medical professionals are surgeons. Everybody who has had surgery knows just how much trepidation you feel when entering that room and realizing that someone is going to cut you open, root around a bit, and then sew you back up. Now if a robotic surgeon were to conduct the same operation, would you feel any better about it? What if robotic surgery gave you a 10X better success rate? Which would you choose it then?
It’s only a matter of time before the majority of skilled tasks are threatened by artificial intelligence and sophisticated automation techniques like robotics. Let’s take a look at 10 robotic surgery companies that may be operating on you sometime in your lifetime.
If you’ve heard mention of robots in surgery, it was probably referencing Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ:ISRG) and their da Vinci surgical robot. The company raised $46 million in an initial public offering in 2000 and in the same year, became the first robotic surgical system cleared by the FDA for general laparoscopic surgery. Since then, da Vinci has been used for more than 3 million minimally invasive procedures in various surgical specialties. The robotic surgery device comes in two parts as see below:
Surgeons shouldn’t feel threatened yet, as Da Vinci is “assisted robotic surgery” and is always controlled by a surgeon from a console. Retail investors who saw the potential of Da Vinci 16 years ago would be sitting on a return of +3,687%.
Verb Surgical was founded with technology, expertise, and funding from Verily (formerly Google Life Sciences) and Ethicon, a medical device company in the Johnson & Johnson family of companies. The company will leverage the medical instrumentation developed by Ethicon and the “big data” and machine learning expertise from Google to develop a “surgical platform” that will also include robotics as well. They refer to their surgical system as “digital surgery” and claim that it will cost much less than Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci robot.
Founded in 2007, Silicon Valley based Auris Surgical Robotics has taken in $184 million and is the fourth startup founded by Dr. Fred Moll who was the co-founder of Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ:ISRG). He just acquired one of his previous companies, Hansen Medical, for about $80 million. Hansen was working on intravascular robotics which involves technology that is used to position, monitor and control catheters and related products. Auris received FDA clearance this year for a teleoperated robotic endoscopy system called ARES (Auris Robotic Endoscopy System). A recent article by IEEE talks in detail about what this stealth-mode Company might be up to, including a focus on endolumenal surgery which involves introducing flexible robots via the body’s natural openings (the mouth in particular).
The Flex Robotic System is based on a core flexible, steerable scope technology that surgeons can use to navigate around anatomy using integrated HD video. Once positioned, the scope becomes rigid and you can then deploy flexible instruments through the tube to perform procedures that would not be possible using a line-of-sight approach.
Founded in 2002, Restoration Robotics has taken in $118 million to develop a robotic system that can be used to transplant hair and treat baldness. This is yet another company founded by Dr. Fred Moll who we mentioned before as being the co-founder of ISRG and the founder of Auris. Restoration has developed a robotic surgery device called ARTAS that takes hair follicles from the back and sides of the head and moves them to the top and front:
According to a recent article in the L.A. Times, the robot costs $200,000 and the procedure can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000. Before you get out your checkbook, note that ARTAS can only be used on patients with straight, dark hair, and is limited to follicle extraction from the back and sides of the head.
Founded in 2006, Nebraska startup Virtual Incision Corporation has taken in $19.6 million in funding to develop a miniaturized robot for general surgery abdominal procedures, such as colon resections. The device was first used on a human this year and is described by the Company as “a small, self-contained surgical device that is inserted through a single midline umbilical incision in the patient’s abdomen” as seen below:
With over 90 patents covering their technology and 40+ prototypes developed, Virtual Incision seems to be well on their way towards getting the FDA approvals needed to move this from an investigatory device to a commercially available robotic surgery device.
Think Surgical has multiple FDA approved systems which have been used in thousands of joint replacements worldwide.
Founded in 2002, Medtech S.A. (EPA:ROSA) is a French robotic surgery company which has a market cap of $133 million and trades on the Euronext Paris exchange. The Company has developed a robotic device called ROSA which was designed to increase the safety and reliability of various neurological procedures. To date, ROSA™ is the only robotic assistant approved for neurosurgical procedures in clinical use in Europe, the United States and Canada and has been used for over 100 spinal surgeries so far:
This month Zimmer Biomet Holdings acquired 59 percent of MedTech in a private transaction causing the share price to jump by over 60%.
With a market cap of $160 million, TransEnterix (NYSEMKT:TRXC) is actually a publicly traded company that doesn’t trade on the over-the-counter (OTC) market. The Company is developing their robotic surgery device called Alf-X which “address the limitations of current robotic systems” and looks to be on about the same scale as the da Vinci:
The only problem is that TRXC has been burning through some serious cash over the years and isn’t showing any revenues yet. Just last year they lost $47 million leaving them with just $68 million in cash on hand. Alf-X is not yet for sale in any country, though the Company has been granted CE mark approval (European equivalent of FDA approval) to use the device for laparoscopic surgery in the abdomen and pelvis.
Canada’s Titan Medical (TSE:TMD) is a publicly traded company on the TSE which is developing their Sport Surgical System, a versatile, single incision advanced robotic surgical system. As we would expect, their website talks all about the “size of the opportunity” and how their solution will transcend what we now call “robotic surgery”. They talk about targeting the European market first, then the U.S. market. They provide “updates” that contain tactical details, some of which are so mundane that you wonder why they included them. And all the while, they haven’t been treating investors well with the stock having lost over -60% since it began trading a few years ago giving the Company a present market cap of $98 million. While the technology may sound exciting, on the surface it looks and smells like an OTC company. You know what we think about OTC companies.
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