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J&J spends $3.4 billion in cash for Auris Health’s lung cancer diagnostics and surgical robots

Johnson & Johnson’s robotic surgery and medical device division, Ethicon, is dropping $3.4 billion in cash to pick up Auris Health, a developer of robotic diagnostics and surgical devices initially focused on detecting and treating lung cancer.

The healthcare giant said an additional $2.35 billion in payouts may be possible if Auris hits certain milestones.

Auris’ acquisition is likely a windfall for investors, including Lux Capital and Coatue Management, which both invested as part of a whopping $280 million round the company closed two years ago.

Auris Surgical Robotics, cofounded by superstar Fred Moll, has quietly closed on a ton of money

Founded by serial entrepreneur Fred Moll — whose previous companies included the 22-year-old, publicly traded Intuitive Surgical, a robotic surgical systems manufacturer now worth around $61.4 billion, and Hansen Medical, a company that developed tools to manipulate catheters — Auris recently received approval from the Food and Drug Administration for its novel, robotic approach to surgery.

Last year, the company unveiled its Monarch platform, which takes an endoscopic approach to surgical procedures that is less invasive and more accurate to test for — and treat — cancer.

“A CT scan shows a mass or a lesion,” Dr. Moll said in an interview at the time. “It doesn’t tell you what it is. Then you have to get a piece of lung, and if it’s a small lesion. It isn’t that easy — it can be quite a traumatic procedure. So you’d like to do it in a very systematic and minimally invasive fashion. Currently it’s difficult with manual techniques and 40 percent of the time, there is no diagnosis. This is has been a problem for many years and [inhibits] the ability of a clinician to diagnose and treat early-stage cancer.”

Monarch uses an endoscopy procedure to insert a flexible robot into hard to reach places inside the human body. Doctors trained on the system use video game-style controllers to navigate inside, with help from 3D models.

Monarch is a new platform from surgical robot pioneer Frederic Moll

“In this new era of health care, we’re aiming to simplify surgery, drive efficiency, reduce complications and improve outcomes for patients, ultimately making surgery safer,” said Ashley McEvoy, executive vice president, worldwide chairman, Medical Devices, Johnson & Johnson, in a statement. “We believe the combination of best-in-class robotics, advanced instrumentation and unparalleled end-to-end connectivity will make a meaningful difference in patient outcomes.”

As part of the deal, J&J is bringing Dr. Moll in-house (which may be as much of a coup for the company as the acquisition of Auris and its patent portfolio).

“We’re thrilled to be joining Johnson & Johnson to help push the boundaries of what is possible in medical robotics and improve the lives of patients across the globe. Together, we will be able to dramatically accelerate our collective product innovation to develop new interventional solutions that redefine optimal patient outcomes,” said Dr. Moll, in a statement. “This combination is a testament to the incredible work of the Auris Health team and the innovation engine behind the Monarch Platform, which represents a huge step forward in endoluminal technology. We look forward to continuing to shape the future of intervention with the added expertise and resources of the world’s largest healthcare organization.”

J&J says that the Monarch robotics platform will play an important role within the Lung Cancer Initiative within the company, and, more broadly, will be used to support the company’s approach to open, laparoscopic, robotic, and endoluminal surgeries.

Other robotics initiatives are underway at J&J through work with Verb, the partnership it has with Verily, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, and through its acquisition of Orthotaxy, a robotics company focused on knee surgeries.

“We are very committed to our partnership with Verily on the development of the Verb Surgical Platform. Collectively, these technologies, together with our market-leading medical implants and solutions, create the foundation of a comprehensive digital ecosystem to help support the surgeon and patient before, during and after surgery,” McEvoy said in a statement.

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