J&J picks up robotic surgery maven Auris Health, and founder Fred Moll himself, in $3.4B deal

Johnson & Johnson is diving deeper into robotic surgery with a $3.4 billion agreement to acquire Auris Health, the Silicon Valley designer of endoscopic hardware aimed at lung cancer.

The all-cash offer, made through J&J’s Ethicon division, includes additional commitments to milestone payments that could be worth up to $2.35 billion.

While the former Fierce 15 winner’s initial focus is in diagnostic and therapeutic bronchoscopy procedures, J&J said it sees the potential to expand Auris’ platform into other interventions. Auris founder and CEO, longtime robotic surgery demiurge Frederic Moll, will join J&J after the closure of the deal.

“In this new era of healthcare, we’re aiming to simplify surgery, drive efficiency, reduce complications and improve outcomes for patients, ultimately making surgery safer,” said Ashley McEvoy, J&J’s worldwide chairman of medical devices.

“We believe the combination of best-in-class robotics, advanced instrumentation and unparalleled end-to-end connectivity will make a meaningful difference in patient outcomes,” McEvoy added. The deal is expected to be finalized before July.

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J&J described the deal as complementary to its ongoing work with Verily to develop a general surgery robot platform, which dates back to 2015.

Their joint venture—Verb Surgical, which was named a member of the Fierce 15 the same year as Auris—looks to leverage its parents’ skill sets in data analytics, artificial intelligence and healthcare know-how. The new deal also joins the medtech giant’s acquisition early last year of Orthotaxy, to help develop a comprehensive robotic-assisted orthopedic surgery platform.

And looking back, Auris has previously worked with a subsidiary of J&J’s Ethicon unit, NeuWave Medical, to add microwave ablation to the end of its flagship Monarch robotic bronchoscope. The thin, articulating tube is designed to snake through the airway to reach difficult lung nodules and burn out lesions, to detect and treat cancers through the same procedure.

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“This combination is a testament to the incredible work of the Auris Health team and the innovation engine behind the Monarch Platform, which represents a huge step forward in endoluminal technology,” said Moll, who previously helped found robotic surgery giant Intuitive Surgical.

“We look forward to continuing to shape the future of intervention with the added expertise and resources of the world’s largest healthcare organization,” he added.

Elsewhere, one of J&J’s main competitors has also been making moves into the robotic surgery space, with Medtronic recently launching a new spine surgery platform following last year’s $1.6 billion acquisition of Mazor Robotics and a clearance from the FDA.

The Mazor X Stealth Edition platform combines Medtronic’s navigation system with Mazor’s robotic guidance hardware. The device provides 3D planning tools and real-time visualization for guided procedures.