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J&J and Google Form New Company For Surgical Robot Venture

"Verb" Will Continue Collaboration Towards Cost-Effective, Intelligent Surgical Robots
Johnson & Johnson
Johnson & Johnson Charlie Kratovil

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ–Consumer giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and the parent company of Google have formed an independent surgical solutions company to produce innovative, yet cost-effective, robotic-assisted systems for surgery, J&J said on December 10. 

Verb Surgical Inc., the name of the new company, is funded by investments from J&J’s Ethicon medical devices subsidiary, J&J Innovation - JJDC, Inc., and a research organization now called Verily – the new name Alphabet has chosen for its life sciences unit.

Google, which has since changed the name of its parent company to Alphabet Inc., and J&J first announced a “strategic collaboration" this past March to leverage their combined expertise and use technology to build a robotics platform with many potential surgical applications and benefits.

"We believe Verb Surgical has the potential to change the future of surgery, not just robotic surgery," said Gary Pruden, worldwide chairman, J&J’s medical devices group in a news release.

J&J says that Ethicon, with its “deep expertise in minimally invasive surgery and advanced instrumentation,” is designing the surgical tools for the new venture.

But Alphabet will provide the software and sensor technology needed to run the systems.

“We think we can use some of our machine vision and image analysis software to help surgeons see better as they operate or make it easier for them to see information that’s relevant to the surgery at just the right time,” said a Google spokeswoman in March.

Ethicon is confident that its basic prototype, completed last year, will be highly successful against competing products on the market.

The typical size of robotic systems are the size of a compact car and surgeons need to operate the control panels about 10 feet away from a patient, but Verb’s robot will reportedly be about one-fifth the size.

While the cost of systems being produced by rivals, and available now, can be as high as $2 million, Verb’s system will cost less, yet be more powerful.

"I'm very excited about the possibilities … By maximizing the distinct capabilities of [Ethicon and Alphabet], we aim to develop novel technologies and solutions to help improve the standard of care,” said Scott Huennekens, President and CEO, Verb Surgical.

While J&J is headquartered in New Brunswick, Verb will be based over 3,000 miles away from Hub City, in Mountain View, California.

Huennekens previously served as CEO of  an intravascular-imaging company called Volcano Corporation from April 2002 to February 2015.

Financial terms of the new company, a joint venture, have not been disclosed.