CEO: Martin Frost
Based: Cambridge, U.K.
Cambridge Medical Robotics (CMR) wants to bring minimal access surgery to the masses. Rather than sell large robots for millions of dollars, CMR plans to provide small, modular robotic arms as a service. In doing so, the startup thinks it can expand use of robots beyond difficult procedures and make them as routine a part of operating rooms as scalpels and lights.
Executing this strategy means going up against the uber-incumbent Intuitive Surgical, which has made the minimal access surgery sector its own private fiefdom. CMR is coming to the fight armed with technology derived from the space and mobile phone industries—not the industrial robot spinoffs of old— plus $46 million in series A funds and aspirations to grow into a global company.
What makes CMR fierce
CMR’s goals are as ambitious as those of any of this year’s Fierce 15 winners. If CMR succeeds, it will have upended the previously-unchanging robot surgery field and built a global medical device company in the U.K., neither of which is an everyday—or even every decade—occurrence. In doing so, CMR will turn robotic surgery from the rarified into the routine, benefiting untold numbers of patients.
A lot of work stands between CMR and this vision of the future, but the company has unveiled the device that will spearhead its advance. CMR started out with a blank sheet of paper. That has led it to design a device a world away from the centralized, octopus-like robot systems found in hospitals today.
CMR’s robotic arms are modular and portable. Instead of being strung off a central control system, the arms stand alone. This, coupled to small size of the device, means surgical teams can move the arms around the operating room and even between hospitals. The goal is to increase the number of surgical situations in which the arm is useful and available.
“At the moment, on average, robots are used about once every other day. Our robot has been designed ultimately to be used as many times as an operating room,” CMR CEO Martin Frost said.
CMR wants the device, dubbed Versius, to be economically viable for more hospitals. As it stands, hospitals make big upfront investments to acquire robots. This limits uptake, particularly in Europe. CMR has designed Versius to cost less than other systems. And it is pairing this cost-conscious design with a business model that could make the economics more favorable still for hospitals.
The plan is to provide the technology as a managed service. Hospitals would sign up to perform, for example, several hundred procedures a year for seven years. CMR will do the rest.
“We will provide everything. The technology. The training. The assistance. The instrumentation,” Frost said.
CMR thinks the model will help its customers match their costs and revenues, while also allowing them to outsource worries about whether they have the right instrumentation to the device firm.
If the device and business model perform as hoped, Versius will catch the eye of cash-strapped European healthcare systems that are searching for chances to improve patient care while keeping costs under control. But Frost’s visits to the U.S. suggest there is a market for Versius there, too.
“There's no doubt about it. They would love a more affordable, versatile system,” he said.
What to look for
CMR expects to pick up a CE mark for the technology and have “up to half a dozen systems” in use by the end of next year. That initial flurry of commercial activity will center on the U.K., but over time CMR envisages the arms being deployed around the world.
To support this anticipated growth, CMR plans to move to a much larger, 50,000-square-foot site within the next 12 months. CMR will perform final tests and assembly of Versius—plus design and development of other devices—at this new location in Cambridge, a city blessed with the rare mix of talent robotic surgery startups need.
Putting this infrastructure in place is a statement of intent by CMR. Frost and his colleagues want to do more than create a new technology and flip it for a profit. The goal is to make a lasting mark on the medical device market.
That will require more money. Frost thinks CMR may ultimately need £100 million ($132 million) to realize its ambitions. But having come through some lean early days and established a syndicate of supportive investors, all the pieces are in place to build a global medical devices company.
“There's no reason why we can't do this,” Frost said.