ReWalk, Wyss Institute team up for lower-limb exoskeleton development

ReWalk Robotics ($RWLK) is teaming up with Harvard University's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering to develop a lightweight exoskeleton system for individuals with lower limb disabilities.

The exclusive deal focuses on creating "soft suit" systems for patients who suffer from stroke or MS, or for older individuals with limited mobility, ReWalk and the Wyss Institute said in a statement. Yokneam, Israel-based ReWalk will work with the Wyss Institute to move the technology through development, including clinical studies, regulatory approvals and eventually, global commercialization.

The first application of the soft suit will be for stroke patients. MS and additional applications will then follow. If all goes to plan, ReWalk and the Wyss Institute will launch commercialization before 2019, the pair said.

"There is a great need in the health care system for lightweight, lower-cost wearable exoskeleton designs to support stroke patients, individuals diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and senior citizens who require mechanical mobility assistance. This collaboration will help create the next generation of exoskeleton systems, making life-changing technology available to millions of consumers across a host of patient populations," ReWalk CEO Larry Jasinski said in a statement.

The Wyss Institute has already made strides with soft suit technology. Researchers there, along with scientists from Boston University, ran pilot studies of the system in stroke patients. Harvard also has 19 patent applications that cover the technology with applications in at least 6 countries, Jasinski said, which could come in handy further down the line.

"Harvard and the Wyss Institute have built comprehensive research expertise in addition to the worldwide patent portfolio. There is no better partner than these renowned institutions with which to pursue the mission of bringing cutting-edge technology to disabled individuals around the world," Jasinski said.

ReWalk's exoskeleton system--Courtesy of ReWalk

A collaboration with the Wyss Institute comes as ReWalk tries to expand its footprint in the market. Last year, the company charted a victory after the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) signed on to its exoskeleton technology for paralyzed veterans with spinal cord injuries.

But it's been a rough road for ReWalk. The company has struggled to gain momentum after making its Nasdaq debut in 2014. Reimbursement is still a challenge, as insurers grapple with the $70,000 price tag for ReWalk's flagship product.

Even though "there are so many patients clamoring to get access to this device," there is "not enough clarity as to how the reimbursement question will be solved," Barclays analyst Matthew Taylor said last year.

Still, ReWalk remains optimistic. The market for exoskeleton devices could be worth "billions of dollars," Jasinski said last year. And some providers have already latched onto the technology. More than 80 treatment centers use the company's device globally, with half of those located in the U.S.

"A lot of it is we need to demonstrate that the market is real," Jasinski said. "I can't forecast a future stock price, but I can forecast that if we make this a multi-dollar business, the stock price will come along. There is no comparable category for us, which makes it a little harder."

- read the statement