J&J MedTech aims to put Ottava surgical robot up for US clinical trials in late 2024

Johnson & Johnson MedTech has given itself a new deadline for the development of its long-awaited entrant into the globally competitive robotic surgery market. 

The company said that in the latter half of next year, it plans to request the FDA’s permission to begin U.S. clinical studies of its Ottava system, which it described as designed to fit inside any operating room around the world.

The soft-tissue surgical robot was previously slated to make its first-in-human debut in late 2022, but Ottava’s timeline was previously pushed back following technical challenges and disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ottava was initially born out of a joint venture between J&J and Google’s life-science-focused sister company, Verily. 

Launched in late 2015 as Verb Surgical, the somewhat secretive outfit had aimed to build the future of the field—which they often described as a digitized and data-fed “Surgery 4.0”—while keeping the details of the robot under wraps. J&J would announce in December 2019 that it was taking over the Fierce 15 winner as a whole and bought out Verily’s stake in the project.

Ottava aims to take on robotics giant Intuitive Surgical, with its mainstay da Vinci system, as well as more recent challengers from Medtronic and CMR Surgical. 

Where Intuitive’s da Vinci, with its large, towerlike frame, inspired competitors to offer somewhat smaller, modular solutions—with Medtronic’s Hugo and CMR’s Versius each separating their multiple robotic arms among rollable carts—Ottava aims to cut the footprint down to the bare minimum by building the hardware directly into a standard-sized patient bed.

Equipped with J&J’s long-running catalog of Ethicon surgical instruments, Ottava aims to offer an “invisible design,” according to the company, with individual robotic arms being stowed underneath the surgical table when they are not in use.

The adaptable system incorporates four arms—down from the previously reported maximum of six—and can link their movements to adjustments of the table, allowing clinicians to reposition the patient without interrupting the procedure.

After receiving regulatory approvals, Ottava will join J&J’s robotic portfolio alongside its Monarch platform—the flexible, snakelike lung endoscopy system developed by Auris Health, which it acquired in 2019 through a $3.4 billion deal—as well as its Velys robot for assisting in knee replacement surgeries.

Medtronic’s Hugo robot, meanwhile, collected green lights in Europe, Canada and Japan in 2022—spanning general surgery, urology and gynecology—and the company announced its first U.S. patient was enrolled in clinical trials last December.

Prior to that, CMR raised a massive $600 million venture capital round in mid-2021 and followed it up with $165 million more in September of this year. The company has also outlined plans for international commercial expansions and has worked with J&J to bundle its Versius robots with Ethicon instrumentation for minimally invasive procedures.