Season 4, Post 23: The robot will see you now

Fancy having a robot perform surgery on you? Well, some 1.6m procedures were carried out last year. It’s not quite as dramatic as it sounds.

Season 4, Post 23: The robot will see you now

Fancy having a robot perform surgery on you? Well, some 1.6m procedures were carried out last year. It’s not quite as dramatic as it sounds. The future of surgery could well be one that is robot-assisted and minimally invasive. The technology has been available since the 1990s, around 30,000 academic papers have been published advocating the benefits and over 55,000 doctors across the world have received training on how to perform such surgery.

Your author is no Doctor, but when on his recent business trip to the US, he had a chance to trial one such robotic system at the headquarters of Intuitive, the leading player within the sector, and the source for the above statistics. Fortunately no real world patient was present. In your author’s opinion, manipulating the machine was remarkably intuitive (the company’s choice of name is perhaps not accidental). The surgeon sits in a booth not dissimilar to an arcade game machine and looks at a screen while manipulating the surgical arms of the robot. Even to a layperson, the benefits of such an approach were evident. Hand-eye coordination felt quite seamless, while sitting in a chair performing (virtual) surgery seems instinctively more appealing than potentially having to stand over a patient for several hours.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

At present, the most popular types of surgery performed by such robots relate to urology, gynaecology, colorectal, bariatric, hernia and gall bladder removal, but the potential to extend the range of use-cases is significant. We were told that Intuitive can see “direct line of sight” to 6m annual robotic procedures over the medium-term, which would imply a quadrupling of the market. The presence of new players (such as Medtronic) into the market should only be a good thing, in our view, since it should help to further legitimise the case for robot-assisted surgery. There is already a strong body of evidence to support both faster patient recovery times (relative to conventional approaches) and superior returns for hospitals deploying such machines. As we first wrote almost a decade ago, the robots are coming.  

7 June 2022​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

The above does not constitute investment advice and is the sole opinion of the author at the time of publication. Heptagon Capital is an investor in Intuitive Surgical. The author of this piece has no personal direct investment in the business. Past performance is no guide to future performance and the value of investments and income from them can fall as well as rise

Photos taken by the author

Alex Gunz, Fund Manager

Disclaimers

The document is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute investment advice or any recommendation to buy, or sell or otherwise transact in any investments. The document is not intended to be construed as investment research. The contents of this document are based upon sources of information which Heptagon Capital LLP believes to be reliable. However, except to the extent required by applicable law or regulations, no guarantee, warranty or representation (express or implied) is given as to the accuracy or completeness of this document or its contents and, Heptagon Capital LLP, its affiliate companies and its members, officers, employees, agents and advisors do not accept any liability or responsibility in respect of the information or any views expressed herein. Opinions expressed whether in general or in both on the performance of individual investments and in a wider economic context represent the views of the contributor at the time of preparation. Where this document provides forward-looking statements which are based on relevant reports, current opinions, expectations and projections, actual results could differ materially from those anticipated in such statements. All opinions and estimates included in the document are subject to change without notice and Heptagon Capital LLP is under no obligation to update or revise information contained in the document. Furthermore, Heptagon Capital LLP disclaims any liability for any loss, damage, costs or expenses (including direct, indirect, special and consequential) howsoever arising which any person may suffer or incur as a result of viewing or utilising any information included in this document. 

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