- Surgical robotics startup CMR has raised $600 million at a $3 billion valuation from SoftBank.
- The company hopes to make keyhole surgery accessible across the world.
- Robotics can solve the “huge challenge” of keyhole surgery, according to CEO Per Vegard Nerseth.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Keyhole surgery, where surgeons operate through small incisions with the support of a camera, can reduce the length of hospital stays, reduce the risk of wound infection that comes with open surgery, and is typically less painful for patients.
But it comes with its own complications. For one, the surgical method is literally a pain for doctors, according to one startup.
“It’s a huge ergonomic challenge for doctors,” Per Vegard Nerseth, CEO of surgical robotics startup CMR, told Insider.
Doctors must stand in “awkward positions” for hours and are limited by their own dexterity, leading to many retiring early, he said. In addition, Nerseth said there were “fairly large proportions” or surgeons that were not confident in taking on this surgery. “That’s really where a surgical robot system comes in,” the CMR chief said.
CMR, which was founded in 2014, aims to make keyhole surgery more accessible across the world thanks to its Versius robotics system — a robotic arm that emulates doctors using cameras and a 3D console.
Currently, around 50% of the world does not have access to keyhole surgery, Nerseth said.
Doctors have to “think upside down” when undertaking manual keyhole surgery because when instruments move up outside the body, they move down inside. Nerseth said CMR’s software corrects this, making the procedure more intuitive through the console used to control the robotic arm.
The potential of CMR’s tech has attracted the attention of some of the world’s biggest tech investors, most notably SoftBank. The Japanese investment giant co-led a $600 million (£425 million) Series D into the British medical tech company alongside healthcare-focused investors Ally Bridge Group in a round that has valued the business at $3 billion.
CMR was also backed by RPMI Railpen, one of the UK’s largest pension funds, Chinese tech giant Tencent and New York-based Chimera. Existing investors also participated, including Swiss investor LGT and its affiliate impact investing platform Lightrock, long-term investor Watrium, life science investor Cambridge Innovation Capital, as well as PFM Health Sciences and GE Healthcare.
Nerseth says it’s “incredibly hard” to build a surgical robotics system and, for those currently on the market, cost is often a barrier for hospitals. The space is dominated by large American companies, he says, and he believes CMR’s understanding of European markets and the small size of its robot arm puts the company in good stead.
Robot surgeries accounted for 2% of procedures in 2019, according to a 2020 report by Informa, while conventional keyhole surgery accounts for about a third of all procedures. Nerseth said low penetration of the tech to date indicates “great growth opportunity.” Dominant players in the market include Johnson & Johnson and Intuitive Surgical, according to Informa.
With a presence in 12 countries and a workforce of around 700, Nerseth says penetrating the Asian market is an important long-term goal.
Funds from the Series D bring the company’s total to $974.7 million, according to Crunchbase. The money will be used to introduce additional instruments that can be attached to the robotic arm, widening the technology’s capabilities.
Versius Connect, an accompanying app for surgeons using the arm to track procedures, will be further developed so doctors can hone their skills. With an emphasis on data collection, funds will also be spent exploring how CMR can better equip hospitals with data-driven insights.
See the pitch deck it used to attract SoftBank Vision Fund 2 and others: