Robotics in MedTech

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FountainBlue’s December 12 Life Science Entrepreneurs’ Forum, was our final life science forum and was on the topic of Robotics in MedTech. Below are notes from the conversation.
By definition, Robots are devices that automatically perform complicated, often repetitive, tasks or are a mechanism guided by automatic controls. These tasks are ones where human activities are augmented or replaced by automatic or semi-automatic devices. The robotics field can be broken down into areas of body interaction (which would include surgical robots, prosthetics, end-effect robots) Power Source (which includes luggable and fixed robots), Movement Detection (which includes programmed movement and myoelectric), as well as Patient Benefits (which includes vertical wheelchairs, stance control). See the attached chart on the medical robotics landscape, courtesy of Tibion.
Tibion offers a wearable robotic device for augmenting muscle and balance functions through sensors and software, and represented the movement detection category on our panel. Restoration Robotics, which is developing and commercializing a state-of-the-art image-guided system (ARTAS™ System) that enables follicular unit extraction and represents the body interaction space, Accel Biotech, which does product development for medical, diagnostic, biodefense and biotech products and represents products from the movement detection, patient benefits and body interaction space and ISS Robodoc, which allows operators to specify a task and the device performs all the actions necessary to complete the task such as drilling a cavity for an implant from CT data, and represents the body interaction space.
Our panelists spoke eloquently both about how they got into the business, for personal and professional reasons, what their companies are doing, as well as the obstacles and opportunities ahead. Below is a summary of advice and comments about the industry overall.
• With the advancement of technologies in software, hardware, mechanical engineering, databases/business intelligence, networks and integration of all, there are many more MedTech opportunities for successful businesses now than ever before.
• With that said, the aging and more affluent global population/potential customer base, and the demand for more versatile, customizable solutions will dramatically increase to serve an ever-growing global market where there are needs for robots to do everything from body interaction to power sourcing to movement detection to patient benefit.
• Entrepreneurs experienced in this area have withstood the financial/economic ebbs and flows of the valley, particularly over the past decade, and seen the rapid rise and fall of technologies-looking-for-a-market. They are best able to see what’s next, based on market needs and customer feedback/demands and are best positioned to leverage existing technologies to serve these needs, many times integrating proven technologies, or applying them in a new way for a new purpose or market.
• Focus more on incremental improvements on proven technologies, for that’s far easily to forecast and plan for than disruptive changes, and you’re far more likely to encounter disruptive changes if you focus on the incremental ones.
In fact, a disruptive change may involve using existing technology in a new way in a new industry rather than inviting a new technology and solution from scratch, which is much less tested, much harder to get adoption and approval and funding and customers.
• Always start with the market need and consider regulatory and reimbursement factors as well as social and cultural issues rather than focus on building the technology and waiting for the patients and doctors to come.
• Design solutions that make therapists more efficient, one that is easy to understand and adopt, one that makes it easier for them to run their clinic as a business.
• Focus on solutions which make sense, and bring patients to caregivers when the need is to specific, too mission-critical. For example, instead of doing remote surgery at a battle site, invest in quickly getting patients to care centers with far more people and resources for customized treatment.
Our panelists agreed that there are tremendous opportunities ahead in this space:
• Integrating software engineering, data analytics, medical device production and pharmaceutical research can help accelerate the development of custom treatments for specific patients and needs. Indeed, it can do much more than that!
• There are huge opportunities in applications of robotics in food production, research (to find a more versatile, nutritious corn for example), distribution, treatment, etc.
• Robotics could enable rapid, customized diagnostics, in the near term in the areas of staph infection,
• Industrial robots did not take off in the US, due more to market/people resistance than technology implementation hurdles. As such, widespread adoption industrial robotics solutions is more prevalent outside the US. If we can change the mindset of the users and adopters, we can welcome and adopt industrial robotics solutions, factory automation at a next level, and once again become more competitive in the manufacturing/operations space. If not, we can design further industrial robot automations for international customers and markets.
• Investigate the convergence of cameras (imaging), networks/mobile, data analytics, etc. as it applies to quickly diagnosing and treating patients in an efficient, customized way.
• Investigate how gaming, sensors and augmentation will intersect with robotics and the opportunities therein.
• See where materials science, medtech, data analytics, and robotics intersect and the implications on how we can better serve our patients.
• To find opportunities to apply robotics, look at what repetitive or dangerous tasks should be done efficiently and precisely and how it can be automated in an efficient (time and money) way to an audience (like patients and doctors) who may not embrace technology. It must be simple to understand and use.
• Each of the robotics categories from body interaction to Power Source to Movement Detection to Patient Benefits may all be applied to how robots can support an aging population to assist movement-impaired patients limited through age-related physical degeneration, diseases or congenital limitations:
o Surgical robots, prosthetics, end-effect robots
o Luggable and fixed robots
o Programmed movement and myoelectric
o vertical wheelchairs, stance control
In the end, complex automation is the key, leveraging technology (software, devices, databases, networks, etc), but it must be integrated into a simple, sustainable solution, easily managed, to serve complex problems for specific users/customers/needs.
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Please join us in thanking our panelists for our final life science forum, on the topic of Robotics in MedTech:
Facilitator Jack Moorman, LeVaunt, LLC
Presenting Entrepreneur Robert Horst, Ph.D., Vice President of R&D & Cofounder, Tibion
Presenting Entrepreneur Mike Ouren, Clinical Development Manager, Restoration Robotics
Presenting Entrepreneur Bruce Richardson, CEO, Accel Biotech
Presenting Entrepreneur Dr. Ramesh C. Trivedi, President, Calbiomed International, Inc.

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