Johnson & Johnson to take over Verb Surgical, its robotics venture with Verily

Johnson & Johnson is moving to fully take over its robotic surgery venture with Google’s sibling company, Verily, by acquiring the remaining stake of Verb Surgical.

J&J described the four-year-old joint project as reaching a new milestone and deemed its past work “a successful strategic collaboration.” The financial terms have not been disclosed, and the deal is expected to be completed in the first half of 2020.

Verb has been pursuing “Surgery 4.0”—which looks to pair surgical advancements with digitization and the rapid sharing of best practices based on patient outcome data. 

The former Fierce 15 winner sits at J&J’s table alongside Auris Health and its Monarch robotic lung surgery platform, which the conglomerate acquired earlier this year for $3.4 billion, as well as the recently announced Velys digital joint reconstruction platform from DePuy Synthes.

"We are building a truly differentiated digital surgery ecosystem to change the standard of care for generations to come, and our collaboration with Verily has enabled us to advance our vision to help improve outcomes for patients around the world," said J&J’s worldwide chairman of medical devices, Ashley McEvoy. 

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In addition to Auris’ bronchoscopy robot, J&J also brought on Auris’ founder and robotic surgery maven Frederic Moll this past February to be its chief development officer. J&J will look to leverage his expertise—along with surgical instrumentation from its Ethicon unit and Verily’s data analysis contributions—as it moves Verb closer to the market. The secretive company had once eyed a 2020 launch, but little is known about its progress. 

"The ability to shape the future of medical interventions with the largest health care organization in the world is what inspired me when Johnson & Johnson acquired Auris Health, Inc.," said Moll. "With Verb Surgical's talent and technology, we will strengthen our portfolio and our ability to deliver our digital ecosystem to make a clinical difference for patients."

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Verb tapped a new president and CEO earlier this year, Kurt Azarbarzin, to help complete its surgical suite. Azarbarzin previously founded and led laparoscopic surgery startup SurgiQuest until its acquisition by ConMed. He took over in July for Scott Huennekens, who led Verb since its 2015 founding.

"With Verb Surgical, we set out with an ambitious mission to successfully harmonize the talent and expertise of two pioneers to design a platform with the potential to transform surgery,” said Verily CEO Andrew Conrad. “This evolution in the collaboration recognizes the significant achievement toward that mission and I'm excited for the future of this technology in Johnson & Johnson's hands."