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January 23, 2019

Johnson & Johnson: From baby talcum powder to cutting-edge surgical robotics

By Priya Kantaria

Healthcare company Johnson & Johnson is in talks regarding the potential acquisition of an American medical robotics company that will bring in leading surgical robotics technology, reports Bloomberg.

The move to take control of Auris Health’s cutting-edge surgical robotics is the latest in a string of partnerships and acquisitions by J&J within the growing market of surgical robotics.

Auris Health will bring robotic surgical scopes that operate by a handheld controller and use flexible tubes that are directed into a patient’s lungs and can help identify cancerous tumours.

UK’s NHS “urged to embrace full automation”

In June 2018, the UK’s National Health Service was urged to embrace full automation, including bedside robots and AI diagnoses.

The recommendations were made by the former UK health minister and a leading surgeon Lord Darzi.

His report said this would free up frontline staff with associated costs of up to £12.5bn a year – 10% of the annual running costs.

“Given the scale of productivity savings required in health and care – and the shortage of frontline staff – automation presents a significant opportunity to improve both the efficiency and the quality of care in the NHS,” he wrote.

The report released by think tank IPPR also pre-empted Johnson & Johnson’s interest in Auris Health, suggesting increased use of robots in surgery.

The growing surgical robotics market

Accuray Research said the robot-assisted minimal access surgery market is estimated to reach $20bn by 2025.

And GlobalData Healthcare reported in 2018 that medical device companies have turned to surgical robotics as the next big innovation.

Surgical robotics are designed to solve limitations in minimally invasive surgeries as well as improve open surgical procedures.

Intuitive Surgical led the way in the global surgical robotics market, with competitors including J&J, Stryker and Medtronic, which closed on the acquisition of Israeli Mazor Robotics in December 2018.

These players are partnering with or acquiring surgical robotics companies to push ahead in the medical robotics space.

J&J’s progress tempered by controversy

In September 2018, Verdict Medical Devices reported how J&J acquired Emerging Implant Technologies, the German manufacturer of 3D-printed titanium interbody implants for spinal fusion surgery.

In 2015, J&J partnered with Alphabet’s medical arm to develop robotic-assisted tools for surgeons, reported by Reuters.

In spite of this progress, J&J is surrounded in controversy over its vaginal reconstructive mesh and claims that its famous baby talcum-powder products have caused cancer.

Today, Verdict Medical Devices reported that J&J agreed to settle on claims of unfair promotion of longevity of its hip implants.