CMR Surgical’s remarkable rise has seen it develop from the model — glued and bolted together in engineer Luke Hares’s workshop and now on display in the boardroom of its cavernous Cambridge HQ — to become one of the UK’s most promising unicorns, with a $3 billion valuation.
CEO Per Vegard Nerseth, who joined last year after almost two decades at industrial robotics giant ABB, said: “Five years after that initial prototype we did the first surgery on a patient. Now, from this model, we have helped 1000 patients globally.”
The blockbuster valuation followed a $600 million fundraiser led by Softbank’s $30 billion Vision Fund 2. China’s Tencent and Escala Capital are also among backers.
The original wooden arm has been developed by teams of engineers into a suite of moulded, neon-lit modular units — named the Versius — which act as a surgeon’s virtual assistants in theatre to perform laparoscopies.
Each arm mimics the movements of the physician, who uses modified PlayStation controllers to manipulate needles, blades and tweezers beneath the patient’s skin from a 3D viewing console.
More than 700 patents cover aspects of its operation, in particular the rotating “wrist” — a feature of the original prototype — which is key to keeping movement, and by extension the size of incisions, to a minimum.
That means shorter operations with fewer complications, lower risk of infection and quicker recoveries than open surgery.
It can also prolong the working life of surgeons, who often retire in their forties due to the physical strain on their backs and necks.
CMR has regulatory approval to operate in more than 20 countries in Europe, Australia, India and the Middle East with “mid double digits” Versius units already in operation, including seven in NHS trusts.
It plans to expand into China, Japan, and the US — home to longtime market leader Intuitive — and estimates global sales of surgical robots will hit $5 billion this year.
Discussions have been held internally about a potential IPO, but the over-subscribed Series D has provided enough cash to accelerate its growth plans.
Nerseth said: “There may be an IPO in the future but right now we have solid shareholders with a long-term view.”
From its original team of five engineers, CMR has set a goal to more than double its existing workforce of 600 to 1,800 and install at least 1,000 Versius systems by 2025.
Nerseth said: “About 50% of all patients still have open surgery with all the disadvantages that entails because manual keyhole surgery is very difficult.
“We have a very clear vision which it’s really easy to get the market to understand: to bring keyhole surgery to patients around the world. In a fantastic market with a fantastic product there are massive growth opportunities."