- 15th May 2019
- Posted by: Manolis
- Category: algorithms, Artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics
A surgical robot developed in Cambridge and capable of assisting surgeons with laparoscopic operations has been trialled on humans for the first time.
Mark Slack, chief medical officer at CMR and one of the company’s founders, said the surgeons were “highly complimentary” about the system and that the trial, which is ongoing, paved the way for Versius to be launched commercially this year.
Versius helps surgeons conduct keyhole operations without causing them the same high levels of physical strain currently associated with laparoscopic surgery.
The robot mimics the dexterity of a human wrist and is compact and easily moved. Because it reduces strain, it can also allow surgeons to carry out more operations. Taken together, these features mean greater productivity and lower costs.
The device will face competition from the Da Vinci robot, developed by an American company called Intuitive Surgical, which is currently the market leader.
However Mr Slack said he hoped Versius would be 40pc cheaper than its rivals, making it a more affordable option for healthcare providers. Existing robots come with a price tag of roughly £1.2m to £2m.
“The system uses re-useable instruments to keep costs down,” said Mr Slack. “Kit like this is expensive when it is not being used, so we made Versius small and easily portable, so it can be moved around all the time to different locations.
“Our goal is for it to add value and be clinically effective. My board and investors all understand that if we want to be successful, we have to be competitive on cost.”
CMR is putting Versius through more clinical testing than is required by healthcare regulators so that it can prove the efficacy and safety of the device to the surgeons and hospitals that might consider buying it.
CMR will also monitor patients long term and create a database of follow-up, real-world information to ensure the system is working properly and to correct any glitches.
“There have been lots of scandals surrounding medical devices, possibly due to inappropriate or hasty introduction,” said Mr Slack.
“Our aim is to generate data to reassure us that the results are genuinely good. We must be one of few companies committing to this degree of thoroughness and post-market surveillance.”
CMR will collaborate with surgeons in the UK this year and next, working with “very big hospitals with big teaching units”, to roll out Versius and monitor how the technology progresses.
CMR was founded by Mr Slack and four other colleagues in 2014 to address the need for a next-generation robot to assist with keyhole surgery.
“A huge percentage of our staff are Cambridge, we couldn’t have done it in any other city because we needed a lot of mental firepower,” said Mr Slack.
Last June CMR raised £74m to give it the cash it needs to launch Versius onto the market. It secured funding from a number of investors, including the Chinese Zhejiang Silk Road Fund, Escala Capital Investments, LGT, Cambridge Innovation Capital and Watrium.