Medtronic Unveils its New Robotic Surgery System

While robotic surgery has been touted a "game-changer," the market is slow to take off. Could Medtronic's new system bring much needed competition to the market?

27.09.2019 | by Kezia Parkins
Photo by Rob Laughter on Unsplash
Photo by Rob Laughter on Unsplash

Medtronic — a US-based MedTech outfit specialising in minimally invasive therapies — wowed at an investor meeting at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut this Tuesday, after finally pulling back the curtain on its new robotic surgical system. 

Medtronic has been somewhat tight-lipped about the new system that people are saying could rival Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci — the robot dominating the minimally invasive market.

Robotics have been touted as a “game-changer” for the advancement of minimally invasive surgery by the world’s best surgeons and MedTech makers. They can be way more precise than a human surgeon and can reach the required part of the body through tiny entry points — hence the term “minimally invasive.”

At an event on Tuesday, Medtronic performed a robot-assisted prostatectomy on a cadaver to an audience that included Wall Street and leaders in medical technology.

According to Medtronic, their new Robotic Assisted Surgery (RAS) will include surgical specialities including urology and gynaecology as well as general, thoracic, colorectal and bariatric surgeries. The technology was developed alongside 100 of the world’s leading surgeons.

However, it might be a while until you can get operated on by a robot.



There are barriers to RAS

Despite the promise of RAS, it is still highly underpenetrated around the world, owing to significant cost and utilisation barriers.

Medtronic outlines that despite the technology being about 20 years into development, only 2 percent of procedures globally are being done robotically.

Around 39,000 surgeons have been trained in robotic-assisted surgery, but today only a fraction of those surgeons are actually performing it.

And, despite the fact that more than 5,000 RAS systems have been installed and placed in hospitals around the globe, they are only being used once per day on average.

According to MDDI, Bob White, EVP and president of Medtronic’s minimally invasive therapies group, said, “Hospitals are more than willing to pay a million-dollar-plus price tag for a piece of capital equipment, what they struggle with is the cost per procedure.”



Medtronic could bring competition to RAS market

Medtronic says that its system will offer “robotics at the cost of laparoscopic plus flexibility.”

Plus, the company may have an edge over the market-dominating da Vinci in some areas:

“We believe that [Medtronic’s] robot might be better for a certain category of procedures than [Intuitive Surgical’s] platform which could result in a form of segmentation among hospitals,” analysts at Needham & Co. wrote Wednesday. “Given this, we believe that the market is not a zero-sum game and that Medtronic’s entry should help to significantly expand the market.”


Medtronic’s new system has been carefully designed to ensure longevity and usability for the surgeon. A universal surgical tower allows for robotic, laparoscopic and open surgery and also features 2D and 3D visualisation.

The module platform also includes a generator, an open surgeon console to allow for communication with operating room staff, and independent mobile carts for the robotic arms and surgical instruments.

When it comes to high-tech systems, often the hospitals’ main concern is forking out millions for technology that could be obsolete in a year. As such, Medtronic made their system upgradeable and able to adapt to the rapidly evolving landscape of MedTech.

The system is not yet available. Medtronic expects to apply for CE mark certification in Europe in the first quarter of fiscal 2021 and to file with FDA for an investigational device exemption in the first half of fiscal year 2021. The IDE will allow for U.S. system placements, training and clinical data gathering. Studies in undisclosed global markets will begin in the second half of the current fiscal year.

“We think about this not in terms of one or two years, we think about it in 10 years,” said Medtronic CEO Omar Ishrak said. “In 10 years, not just this robot but other robots that we’ve got going will change the face of surgery.”

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