Johnson & Johnson is eyeing robotic surgery maven Auris Health as a potential acquisition, with plans to purchase it at a premium over its most recent $2 billion valuation, according to a report from Bloomberg.
While a final agreement has not been reached, such a move could slot in the 2016 Fierce 15 winner’s FDA-approved system for diagnosing and treating patients with lung cancer alongside J&J’s other robotic surgery offerings, including those currently under development in orthopedics and general surgery.
Launched by Frederic Moll—who previously helped put Intuitive Surgical at the center of the map with its da Vinci surgical robot—Auris has raised more than $700 million in financing to date, including a $220 million haul last November to help commercialize its lung-focused Monarch platform.
Auris has previously rubbed elbows with J&J, including through a collaboration with a subsidiary of the Big Pharma’s Ethicon unit. Last year, Auris and NeuWave Medical launched a project to add microwave ablation capabilities to the end of Monarch’s robotic bronchoscope—a thin, guided, flexible tube designed to reach difficult lung nodules and burn out cancer lesions—with the goal of detecting and treating lung tumors during the same procedure.
Meanwhile, J&J and Verily have been working together on digital surgery since 2015, back when the latter was known as Google Life Sciences. The two formed a joint venture, Verb Surgical, which unveiled its first prototype to its executive benefactors two years later. Currently, the two companies are looking to leverage their different skill sets, including in data analytics and artificial intelligence, in the creation of a new type of general surgery robot.
J&J aims to take a broader view of digital health when it comes to robotic surgery, by not only developing a more efficiently performed procedure, but by also pairing it with data gathered in the months before and after surgery to help better prepare patients and track improvements down the line.
“Our concept is using digital technologies to expand the continuum of care,” Euan Thomson, J&J’s global head of R&D for digital technology and advanced innovation, told FierceMedtech in an interview last year. J&J’s work in orthopedic surgery brought in over $8.8 billion in 2017 sales, giving the company a 24.2% market share, according to EvaluateMedtech.
“We can start to better understand the impact a patient has on outcomes, plus the impact that surgical technique and process has on outcomes—as well as on the performance of the devices, which the corpus of research has been focused on in the past,” Thomson said.
Elsewhere, J&J’s medtech competitor Medtronic moved to acquire Mazor Robotics last year, with a $1.6 billion deal for the company and its spine surgery guidance systems.
Medtronic had previously invested in the company and plans to merge Mazor’s systems with its own line of spinal implants, navigation and imaging products to create an integrated surgery suite while maintaining Israel-based Mazor’s site and team.