J&J Boosts Robotic Surgery Portfolio with $3.4 billion Takeover of Auris Health

Johnson & Johnson, the U.S. med-tech behemoth, announced the acquisition of Auris Health, a robotic healthcare startup founded by surgical robotics pioneer Frederic Moll, who also co-founded Intuitive Surgical. Moll will join J&J after the acquisition according to J&J but did not disclose what role he would play. Auris’s flagship product is a robot used by surgeons via a videogame like controller to direct a scope through a patient’s body with cameras. The platform, called Monarch, was approved by the FDA in March 2018 for diagnostic and therapeutic bronchoscopic procedures. This is where an instrument is inserted into the nose or mouth and then is guided down into the throat or lungs. The goal of the platform is to enable more-accurate diagnosis, and eventually treatment, of small and hard-to-reach nodules in the periphery of the lung. Intuitive Surgical has itself just gained FDA clearance for a similar robotic device called Ion last month which will be able to perform lung biopsies via a 3.5mm needle. J&J’s agreement includes additional payments to Auris of $2.35 billion, based upon Auris hitting certain milestones which are not public. Auris is not J&J’s only venture into the robotic healthcare space - it has been working with Google on a digital surgery platform called “Verb Surgical” since 2015, which will develop robotics, visualization, advanced instrumentation, data analytics and connectivity. They are not expected to release any products on the market till 2020 at the earliest.