News Feature | January 30, 2017

J&J-Google Joint Venture Verb Surgical Unveils Digital Surgery Prototype To Partners

Jof Enriquez

By Jof Enriquez,
Follow me on Twitter @jofenriq


Verb Surgical — the joint venture between Johnson & Johnson’s Ethicon and Alphabet’s Verily Life Sciences— says it has successfully demonstrated their first digital surgery prototype to senior company executives, one year after announcing their collaboration.

First announced in March 2015 and formally launched in December 2015, Verb Surgical was formed to develop a new platform with “leading-edge robotic capabilities and best-in-class medical device technology.” Ethicon brings its knowledge of surgical instrumentation to the partnership, while Verily contributes Google’s machine vision, imaging analysis, and data analytics expertise.

Just over a year after its formation, Verb Surgical announced it had recently demonstrated to partners a prototype featuring all elements of the company’s five technology pillars — robotics, visualization, advanced instrumentation, data analytics, and connectivity. Verb refers to this innovation as Surgery 4.0, the next evolution of surgery.

Scott Huennekens, CEO of Verb Surgical, commented, “This is a tremendous achievement for Verb and our collaboration partners at Ethicon and Verily. Verb is a company driven by taking action for surgeons and patients. Completing this prototype milestone was an achievement that we aimed for a year ago, and I’m excited to say we achieved it and are on track with our development schedule to deliver Surgery 4.0 with our platform.”

Gary Pruden, executive VP and worldwide chairman of medical devices at J&J, added, “The team has made important progress since Verb was formed in August 2015. The digitally-enabled surgery platform is a great example of how healthcare can be transformed through innovation.”

Verb Surgical has been testing the digital surgery prototype for several months, before unveiling it at a demonstration also attended by Alex Gorsky, J&J chairman & CEO, and Sergey Brin, cofounder of Google and Alphabet, the parent company of Verb Surgical.

Brin said it was “extremely exciting to see the hard work Verily has been doing in optics, electronics, software, and more to take the next big step toward saving lives.”

J&J is among a handful of established medical device manufacturers trying to seize opportunities in the burgeoning surgical robotics market via joint ventures, partnerships, and distribution agreements. Medtronic is back Mazor Robotics for the latter’s robotic spine surgery platform. Smith & Nephew acquired Blue Belt Technologies and its Navio robotics system in 2015. And Zimmer Biomet last year bought French company Medtech SA, developer and maker of the ROSA robotic device for neurological and spine procedures. These companies are trying to challenge the dominance in the surgical robotics space of Intuitive Surgical, maker of the da Vinci surgical system, the de facto standard in robotic-assisted surgery.

Emerging competitors are seeking FDA approval and commercialization of their own surgical robots, as well. These companies, such as TransEnterix, are looking to compete in the low- to mid-range market of hospitals open to using surgical robotics but facing budgetary constraints.