News Feature | December 11, 2015

J&J, Verily Ink Surgical Robotics Joint Venture

By Jof Enriquez
Follow me on Twitter @jofenriq

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Johnson & Johnson and Verily Life Sciences are partnering to create a new surgical solutions platform, born out of an earlier agreement between J&J's Ethicon subsidiary and Google Life Sciences, which recently re-named itself Verily.

Verb Surgical will develop "leading-edge robotic capabilities and best-in-class medical device technology" to assist surgeons, achieve better patient outcomes, improve access to minimally invasive surgery, and achieve greater hospital efficiency, according to a press release.

Ethicon and Verily will pool their intellectual property, R&D assets, and other resources to the joint venture, which will be headquartered in Mountain View, Calif. In particular, Ethicon, with its long history and expertise in instrumentation, will be developing new surgical instruments for Verb Surgical's robotic surgery platform.

"We believe Verb Surgical has the potential to change the future of surgery, not just robotic surgery," said Gary Pruden, Worldwide Chairman, J&J Medical Devices, in the release. "The team has already made meaningful progress on the robotics platform, which is being developed for application across a host of surgical specialties."

When the deal between J&J and Google Life Sciences was first announced in March, Google said it would contribute its machine vision, imaging analysis, and data analytics expertise to the surgical robotics platform.

Financial details on the formation of Verb Surgical were not disclosed. J&J, however, said it appointed Scott Huennekens as president and CEO of the new company. Huennekens is a veteran medtech industry executive, whose last position was CEO of Volcano Corp., which was bought by Philips last year.

"I'm very excited about the possibilities that we can realize through our new surgical solutions company," Huennekens remarked in the release. "By maximizing the distinct capabilities of these two market-leading companies, we aim to develop novel technologies and solutions to help improve the standard of care around the world. Our name speaks for itself. We are a company dedicated to action and to making a difference in people's lives, in partnership with surgeons globally."

WIRED reports that Huennekens will be joined at Verb by Pablo E. Garcia Kilroy — formerly of SRI International — who will become VP of research and technology, and by Dave Scott — formerly VP of R&D at Abbott Medical Optics — who will lead Verb's engineering and product development efforts. They are among the initial group of over a hundred people recruited to work for the company, according to the report.

Fresh off a rebranding from Google Life Sciences, Verily is adopting a multi-disciplinary, cross-industry approach to "develop new technology, launch studies, and start companies,” and Verb Surgical looks to become the first of many companies formed by Verily and based on Google's vaunted "moonshot" ideas.

“Verb Surgical is the first time we’ve launched a new company with a partner,” Verily CEO Andrew Conrad told WIRED. “We expect to work closely with pharma, biotech, medical device and diagnostic companies, patient advocacy groups, and academic researchers in different ways for a long time to come.”