Stealth surgical robotics startup from Intuitive Surgical co-founder raises $150M

Partners Google and Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) aren't alone with in a splashy commitment to next-gen robotic surgery. Now, San Carlos, CA-based Auris Surgical Robotics has raised $150 million to back its almost entirely undisclosed mission, according to an SEC filing. This is the fourth robotic surgery co-founded by Dr. Frederic Moll, who helped found robotics surgery giant Intuitive Surgical ($ISRG).

Frederic Moll, Intuitive Surgical co-founder

The company has a stellar line-up of investors, most prominently the Peter Thiel-backed Mithral Capital, as well as Lux Capital and NaviMed Capital--all three venture firms have a seat on the board at Auris. This latest financing brings the total invested in Auris to $185 million, according to SEC filings, with the first investment of only $1 million dating back to 2009.

Robotic surgery has remained somewhat controversial as companies struggle to demonstrate consistent procedural quality across surgeons; lack of experience with the devices can lead to worse patient outcomes. In fact, the FDA held a panel meeting in July to address the challenges and opportunities involved in the evolving technology.

Auris Surgical has tipped its hand at least once to reveal a bit of its strategy. In Oct. 2013, it disclosed a partnership with dental laser company Biolase ($BIOL) to create a robotic microsurgical system for ophthalmic surgery-- specifically for cataract removal surgery. The system is slated to use Biolase's tissue cutting technology Waterlase, which combines water, air and laser energy to more effectively and painlessly conduct dental procedures, with Auris slated to provide the robotic operating system.

"When the laser makes contact with the tooth it excites the water molecules to cut through the tooth," describes Biolase. The WaterLase technology has been marketed for dental applications since 1998.

"We evaluated a variety of advanced cutting technologies for use in our robotic cataract-removal system," said Auris' Moll in a statement at the time. "For cutting precision, system compatibility, and lack of tissue trauma, we found significant advantages in using Biolase's Waterlase technology. We anticipate that our system will have major advantages over traditional phacoemulsification and should create a new standard for safety, speed, and effectiveness in cataract removal."

At that time, Auris described itself as dedicated specifically to a robotic microsurgical system designed for ophthalmic surgery.

In addition to Intuitive Surgical, Moll also co-founded micro-cap Hansen Medical ($HNSN) and Origin Medsystems, which was acquired by Eli Lilly ($LLY) in 1992 for about $150 million and subsequently became part of Guidant.

- here is the SEC filing