Gabriel Perna | October 12, 2021
Vicarious Surgical’s surgical robot technology has yet to be cleared for usage by the FDA, but it has already won over some impressive names in the form of its investors. Moreover, the company’s technology has the potential to highlight the evolving role surgical robotics will assume in the next generation of health care.
“Bill Gates and his team, Vinod Khosla and his team, Eric Schmidt and his team, they’ve all invested in the company,” said Vicarious Surgical Founder and CEO Adam Sachs. “All of those big tech luminaries invested because they believe in our vision and our core technology.”
The company just went public via a special purpose acquisition company, in fact, and is seeking full FDA clearance. The company valuation is $1.1 billion and the SPAC transaction raised $220 million. It did receive an FDA breakthrough device designation, which allows for input from the agency, a quicker regulatory review, and an easier reimbursement pathway. Sachs says the company will file for full clearance in late 2023.
The core technology Sachs is referring to combines virtual reality and human-like surgical robots. Vicarious’ surgical robot arm has been designed to replicate human motion and the company says it can offer surgeons 360-degree views via a single incision that’s less than the size of a dime when paired with a VR headset. Sachs says the current surgical robotics offerings only work for 3 percent of addressable procedures and only have limited motion capabilities.
According to one study, surgeries that involved a robot went from 1.8 percent of surgeries in 2012 to 15 percent in 2018. Still, the authors said surgical robots tend to replace “conventional laparoscopic approaches for procedures that may not be complex enough to warrant the consideration of an advanced, expensive, and unproven minimally invasive platform.” Sachs says the way it works with most surgical robots is that they are designed specifically for the procedure, which is expensive, inefficient and requires a huge learning curve. They also are dependent on where the surgeon makes the incision and there are often multiple incisions needed.
“The reason we’ve had such limited adoption of surgical robotics comes down to the architecture of the systems. All the systems today have been built on industrial robotics platforms, which are huge and extremely expensive,” Sachs says. “That’s why we believe in having one small, 15 mm incision, where you put the robot in, and the surgeon can operate anywhere. It allows for them to no longer plan around the tool. They can plan around the procedures.” He says the technology relies on decoupled actuators, which allow the device to move more joints in motion than a traditional device.
Along with Gates, Schmidt, and Khosla, Sachs says medical device company Becton Dickinson and a major hospital chain also invested in Vicarious, among others. While awaiting clearance, the company is perfecting the product offering, Sachs says, including tweaking and finalizing a lot of smaller features around the edges to get the product right when it’s ready to be rolled out into the market.
“Surgeons are some of the most demanding customers in the world and rightly so. It’s important that we bring a product to them that’s exactly what they need,” says Sachs. The company expects to start with hernia operations and take on other abdominal surgeries.
Five years from now, Sachs predicts the company’s device will have widespread adoption and its features will help ease workflow challenges in the operating room. Moreover, he says the increased efficiency that the device can offer will also deliver a viable ROI for health systems.
“One of the most important things in robotics that’s been a huge miss is that you need be cost negative. And you can do that. Operating on time is expensive. Additional tools that are used are expensive. There are tons of ways to offset that cost. The problem is surgical robots today not only cost millions of dollars, but they require dedicated operating rooms, a lot of additional training, they require frequently dedicated robot staff, and then on top of all of that, they add procedural time. The opportunity to fix all of that is there,” Sachs says.