J&J's Ethicon, CMR Surgical pair up on minimally invasive robotic surgery

After announcing earlier this month that it had placed the first 100 of its modular robotic systems in operating rooms worldwide, CMR Surgical is getting a boost from Johnson & Johnson’s Ethicon division, which has signed up to help increase the company’s commercial reach in a small number of select markets.

The collaboration will start with private hospitals in Italy, France, Germany and Brazil, and see CMR and Ethicon’s sales teams offer clinicians their respective portfolios bundled together.

That includes pairing CMR’s Versius robot—with its human-like surgical arms mounted on separate portable carts—with Ethicon’s suite of laparoscopic instruments for carrying out minimally invasive procedures. Ethicon also maintains a line of digital solutions and education programs for surgeons.

According to CMR, the pact will streamline the process for hospitals and surgery centers to gain access to robotics and the specialized tools used across a wide range of treatments. CMR said it would also continue to work independently, promoting and selling Versius directly to customers in these markets. 

CMR kicked off a new phase of global expansion this year, fueled by a mammoth fundraising round in June 2021 that collected £425 million, or nearly $600 million U.S. 

The company, formerly known as Cambridge Medical Robotics, previously received a CE Mark approval in Europe in March 2019. Earlier this year, the U.K.-based developer laid out a plan that divides up the continent into sales regions each with their own manager.

This month, CMR reported that its hardware has been used in more than 5,000 clinical cases, with more than 100 devices installed across Europe, Asia, Australia, the Middle East and South and Latin America. The company also said it is currently building a 75,000-square-foot manufacturing facility outside its Cambridge home, which will serve as its global export hub. 

The Versius system gives surgeons the option of performing fully robotic laparoscopic procedures, or a combination of robotic and manual approaches. Its multiple robotic arms can be assembled in different configurations while being controlled from a central console.

J&J, meanwhile, remains committed to developing its own soft tissue surgery robot, the company said in a statement. Born out of the company’s previous Verb Surgical venture with Verily, the six-arm, table-mounted system—dubbed Ottava—had previously been planned for a clinical debut in late 2022, but that timeline was pushed back following disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Editor's note: This story was updated with a statement from J&J on Ottava.