BREAKING: Johnson & Johnson finally unveils its new robot-assisted surgery system

Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) today shared details on its surgical robotic platform that it says offers unrivaled flexibility and control compared to the rest of the market.

The new system is designed with six arms to provide more control and flexibility in surgery, while its arms will be integrated into the operating table. Additionally, the platform has a zero-footprint design to enable patient access, increase space in the operating room and improve workflow.

J&J’s unveiling included a name for the new platform: Ottava.

In Italian, “Ottava” means to play music an octave higher, according to J&J robotics chief development officer Dr. Frederic Moll, an Intuitive Surgical co-founder who joined J&J through its acquisition of his Auris Health in 2019.

“That (an octave higher) is what we mean to enable in medical intervention,” Moll said during a medical device update presentation today.

Robot-assisted surgery is currently a hot area in medtech — with J&J, Medtronic and others seeking to take on Intuitive Surgical (NSDQ:ISRG), which dominates the space with its da Vinci robots.

J&J believes its developing platform offers more than any other available system in terms of flexibility.

“Currently, there is no robotic system that provides robotic control and coordination across a full breadth of procedures,” Moll said. “It is my team’s ambition to enable our platform to improve outcomes across a broad range of disease states.”

Moll said J&J is in the “exciting stage of development” where the platform is “coming to life.”

The company is planning on beginning verification and validation processes for Ottava in 2021, followed by enrollment in clinical trials for the device in 2022.

J&J’s digital ecosystem — designed to connect its surgical and robotic platforms  — is set to power Ottava, while the company has eyes on combining it with the FDA-cleared Monarch robotic surgical platform acquired from Auris Health to access and treat challenging anatomy in a minimally invasive way.

“We view Ottava as the surgeon’s instrument for orchestrating a new level and elevating the surgical experience,” Moll said.

In July, J&J decided not to follow a 510(k) clearance pathway for its then-unnamed planned general surgery robot — with a goal to start first-in-human studies with the system set for the second half of 2022 during its quarterly earnings call at the time.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck the U.S., J&J had been planning some kind of robotic surgery reveal in May. The medtech giant has been working on combining technologies that came out of its previous Verb Surgical collaboration with the Alphabet (NSDQ:GOOGL) life sciences unit Verily — as well as the $3.4 billion purchase of Auris Health and the Monarch platform.

Here are some additional highlights from J&J’s medical device update event:

Coping during COVID-19

“The entire medtech industry is affected by this once-in-a-generation disruption with COVID-19, including us,” said Ashley McEvoy, the head of J&J’s medical device business. “We believe in the strength of the medtech market in the long-term and expect it to return to growth.”

McEvoy believes that the pandemic has been a catalyst for change and evolution in the medtech space and said J&J has responded by investing to drive growth, divesting in non-core businesses and completing acquisitions to strengthen in high-growth areas, such as digital surgery.

“We are advancing disruptive, transformational innovations,” McEvoy said. “We are continuously investing in our core while advancing areas with high-growth potential.”

J&J maintains an optimistic outlook for the post-pandemic market, with expectations for double-digit operational sales growth in 2021 and a doubled value for its new product pipeline compared to 2018.

“We’re well-positioned to get through COVID,” McEvoy said. “We’re committed to emerging stronger from this pandemic.”

Monarch and digital surgery play

Along with the company’s excitement over the Ottava system, J&J has high hopes for its expansion in the overall digital surgery space.

The Monarch platform is already FDA-cleared for certain indications, but J&J is looking to move the platform toward cancer diagnosis and treatment. The company sees the potential to offer endoluminal drug and energy treatment through this avenue.

The global head of J&J’s lung cancer initiative Dr. Avi Spira said that the localized drug delivery, straight to cancerous or pre-cancerous lesions, offers minimized toxicity, increased efficacy and the potential for new therapies.

J&J has plans to start first-in-human trials for the Monarch in delivering drug and energy treatment.

“We believe our unified, unique approach will ultimately expand beyond lung cancer,” Spira said. “There’s an opportunity for J&J to further transform the trajectory of human health.”

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