J&J Hints at How Google Partnership Will Disrupt Surgical Robotics

J&J is working with Google to make surgical robotic systems smarter, smaller, cheaper, and, ultimately, more accessible.

October 14, 2015

3 Min Read
J&J Hints at How Google Partnership Will Disrupt Surgical Robotics

Jamie Hartford

Smarter, smaller, cheaper. In a nutshell, that’s Johnson & Johnson’s strategy to upend the surgical robotics market.

This past March, the company announced a partnership that will combine its own medical technologies with Google’s analytics to create a next-generation robotic-assisted surgical platform, and in its Q3 2015 earnings call October 13, worldwide chairman of medical devices Gary Pruden provided a few more details about what that platform will look like.

“…[W]e think what's available today is really the model that's more like the mainframe computer 50 years ago,” Pruden said, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript of the call. “We intend to go to the iPad version…”

The new platform will combine J&J technologies such as minimally invasive surgical tools being developed through the company’s Ethicon division with Google’s analytics capabilities to help surgeons make informed decisions during procedures.

“We can see a future in which the surgeon is no longer isolated in the OR, but through our system we'll be able to connect to critical data, imaging, and diagnostic information,” Pruden said. “Information that will help a surgeon make the best, most accurate decisions as and when they are needed.”

The future system will have a smaller footprint than current surgical robots and enable surgeons to get closer to the patient. Pruden also said it will be more comfortable for surgeons, but they won’t be the only beneficiaries.

“The system is being developed with both the healthcare provider and the economic buyer in mind,” he said.

Although Pruden said the market for surgical robotics is pegged at roughly $2 billion and procedures are expected to grow at a double-digit rate, market penetration of surgical robotic systems has been limited due to their high cost—reportedly $1 million upfront for Mako Surgical's Rio and nearly $2 million for Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci Si. J&J hopes to achieve a broader appeal by making the capital equipment as well as the disposable attachments more affordable.

“If you look at the robotics install base as it is today, it's very much focused on the developed markets versus the emerging markets, and that's because cost to serve is disproportionately out of balance,” Pruden said. “And we think that there are opportunities to have a much smaller footprint in terms of a technology, a lower cost to serve in terms of disposables as well as capital that we think can play across a broader range of surgical procedures in a cost effective way…”

J&J’s system is currently in the development stage, with the company working to integrate Google’s informatics into the design of its own robot, Pruden said. The system won’t hit the market for a couple of years, but expect an update soon.

“Additional information regarding our progress will be communicated in just the next few weeks,” Pruden said.

Jamie Hartford is MD+DI's editor-in-chief. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @MedTechJamie.

[image courtesy of INTUITIVE SURGICAL]

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