How Johnson & Johnson plans to grow orthopedic, spine robotics in the next 24 months


Johnson & Johnson is looking to robotics and digital surgery to drive future innovation and growth in the healthcare and orthopedics space.

The company has made key acquisitions in the robotics space over the past few years, including the up to $5.75 billion purchase of Auris earlier this year, and Monarch, a minimally invasive technology to obtain lung biopsies. The company also brought on Fred Moll, MD, a founder of robotics company Intuitive and Auris, to lead its robotics efforts.

According to Executive Vice President and Worldwide Chairman of Medical Devices Ashley McEvoy’s interview at the Wells Fargo Healthcare Conference, Dr. Moll is interested in applying robotics to orthopedics. “The notion of digital surgery is also having an impact on orthopedics,” she said, as transcribed by Seeking Alpha. “I would stay tuned.”

The company does have the Orthotaxy technology in its portfolio, which Dr. Moll is reviewing. Johnson & Johnson acquired the Orthotaxy technology in February 2018 for an undisclosed amount with the goal of broadening the technology application beyond partial and total knee replacements. It also has a partnership with Verily, which formed the independent surgical solutions company Verb in 2015.

“We have a very active program in our joint platform through the acquisition of Orthotaxy, but also taking some of the benefits that we’re learning from Verily and Dr. Fred Moll to really create a differentiated experience for the surgeon and for the patient,” said Ms. McEvoy. “So our digital surgery application in knees is on track for a mid-next-year filing.”

Ms. McEvoy said the company will likely launch the product at the end of 2020 or at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Annual Meeting in 2021. By then, several other companies including Stryker’s Mako Surgical, Smith & Nephew’s Navio and Zimmer Biomet’s Rosa systems will all have had robotic orthopedic technology on the market. Johnson & Johnson aims to differentiate its product from the others by its size.

“It’s the size of a shoebox,” said Ms. McEvoy. “You can attach it to the table. Surgeons love flexibility of it has on clearing the plane of the bone.”

In August, Johnson & Johnson also acquired JointPoint, which has digital hip applications. Finally, the company has a partnership with Brainlab that Dr. Moll is working to optimize. The robotic spine market is also evolving, with Medtronic’s Mazor system leading the way. Stryker also recently signed a definitive agreement to acquire Mobius Imaging and Cardan Robotics for up to $500 million, adding robotic technology to its spine division.

“We have an ambition to stabilize [DePuy Synthes Spine] and then get back to growth,” said Ms. McEvoy. “We’re the second leading spine company in the world. Really, we’re doing that in three ways: one is focusing on our top six countries that matter, not solving the top 25; number two, really shoring up commercial execution. So, we’ve had a dedicated sales force for over a year now in the U.S. as an example. We’re starting to bear fruit on that. And then really focus the innovation pipeline on the areas that are going to matter most in spine … degenerative disc disease, deformity and complex cervical.”

At the North American Spine Society Annual Meeting in September, the company plans to showcase innovation including a 3D-printed interbody cage and enhancements for the cervical spine.

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