November 09, 2015      

Medrobotics Corp. has sold $25 million in stock to fund the commercialization of its Flex Robotic System, which lets surgeons reach areas of the human body that were previously difficult to reach.

Raynham, Mass.-based Medrobotics was founded in 2005. Flex is based on technology developed at Carnegie Mellon University and Farm Design Inc.

Medrobotics has been supported by investment firms Eagle Ventures Inc. and the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse. The company has already raised about $78 million in previous rounds of funding.

In July, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Flex for otolaryngology, or treatment of the ear, nose, and throat. The robotic-assisted device received European clearance last year.

Reducing invasive surgery speeds recovery

“The Flex Robotic System is the first and only robot-assisted surgical platform with a flexible scope cleared by [the] FDA for use during transoral procedures,” said Samuel Straface, president and CEO of Medrobotics. “The minimally invasive system enables surgical access and visualization in hard-to-reach locations through a single site. Doctors can then complete procedures that might otherwise be difficult, or even impossible, to perform due to inability to visualize or access the site.”

Flex combines the features of a laparascope, which is a relatively rigid device for surgery, and an endoscope, which is flexible to move through the body. As the system is extended through the body, it remembers where curves exist within the anatomy and follows them.

In addition, Flex has an HD camera, endpoint instruments, and a relatively small footprint for mobility in the hospital and to allow doctors to be close to patients.

Doctors and patients prefer minimally invasive surgery because it usually leads to shorter hospital stays and recovery times, saving money.

“When used in combination with the highly adjustable Flex Retractor, surgeons can greatly extend their reach in challenging areas of the mouth and throat,” said Marshall Strome, chairman emeritus of the Cleveland Clinic Head and Neck Institute and co-chair of Medrobotics’ Medical Advisory Board. “I consider these products transformative.”

German team investigates tumor-removal robot

Other organizations are working on similar technology but are further behind. The Mannheim Project Group for Automation in Medicine and Biotechnology is developing the NiLiBoRo, or “Non-Linear Drilling Robot” that can drill around corners. The robotic drill would allow for the removal of inner-ear tumors with minimally invasive surgery.

Such procedures require nonlinear tunnels of only a 5 mm in diameter to avoid damaging nerves. The robot would crawl forward using hydraulic lines and be monitored with an electromagnetic tracking system.

Researchers at the Mannheim Project Group, which is part of the Fraunhofer Institute of Production Technology and Automation, are working with the Technical University of Darmstadt, the University of Aachen, and the Dusseldorf University Clinic. They hope that NiLiBoRo will be sufficiently miniaturized and ready for physician testing in two years.

The market for surgical robotics will grow from $3.2 billion in 2014 to $20 billion in 2021, predicts Lexington, Mass.-based WinterGreen Research Inc.

“Existing open surgery can be replaced in large part by robotic minimally invasive surgery during the forecast period,” said Susan Eustis, WinterGreen president. “Minimally invasive robotic surgery, new robotic radiation treatment, and emerging robotic surgical approaches complement existing surgery techniques. Soon, all surgery will be undertaken with at least some aspects of robotic surgery replacing or complementing open surgery.”