Verb Surgical taps new CEO as it inches its surgery robot toward the market

Verb Surgical, the discreet robotic surgery joint venture from Verily and Johnson & Johnson, has tapped Kurt Azarbarzin to be its president and CEO, effective immediately.

Azarbarzin previously founded the laparoscopic surgery startup SurgiQuest, and served as its CEO until its 2015 acquisition by Conmed. SurgiQuest had developed the FDA-cleared AirSeal device for minimally invasive surgical access, including during robotic-assisted procedures. Following its $265 million buyout, Azarbarzin made the jump over to Conmed to be chief technology officer of its advanced surgical business.

At Verb, he will help lead the completion of the former Fierce 15 winner’s digital surgery platform—a comprehensive suite years in the making—which aims to incorporate robotics, visualization, advanced instrumentation, connectivity and machine learning analytics, all into what it describes as “Surgery 4.0,” according to the firm.

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CEO Kurt Azarbarzin (Verb)

“The company has an incredible vision for the future of surgery,” Azarbarzin said in a statement. “I've spent time with the technology and believe it has the potential to transform surgery on a global scale.”

He takes over for Scott Huennekens, one of FierceBiotech’s most influential people in biopharma, who served as president and CEO since Verb’s founding in 2015.

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Previous estimates had pegged a commercial launch for 2020, though there are few details available on progress. Verb did disclose that it has been testing its prototype preclinically with its partner companies—including through its development collaborator Ethicon, J&J’s medical device unit, which provides the system’s surgical instruments.

If it’s any indication, the company’s benefactors placed strong emphasis on Azarbarzin’s market-focused background: “Kurt's commercial acumen and legacy of innovative R&D in minimally invasive surgery make him a welcome addition to the team,” said Verily CEO Andy Conrad, while J&J’s worldwide chairman of medical devices Ashley McEvoy stated they are “pleased to have Kurt's leadership and expertise guiding the platform towards commercialization.”