TransEnterix (NYSE:TRXC) is betting that the haptics technology in its Senhance robot-assisted surgery platform will help it make headway against Intuitive Surgical (NSDQ:ISRG) and its 10-year lead on the market.
CEO Todd Pope told MassDevice.com that the Senhance’s haptics – the system’s ability to convey a sense of touch and resistance to the surgeon – are an important selling point with physicians.
“The 1 thing that they tell us, as far as a feature that they miss the most on robotics, is the sense of feel or touch. When surgeons do open surgery, they rely on their hands and touch a great deal. Even with laparoscopic surgery, they have that tactile feedback. They have none of that with the current robotics systems today,” Pope told us. “Surgeons have told us when they’re dissecting tissue planes, when they’re working around important vessels or organs, often the sense of touch is just as important for them to discern what they want to do next in the surgery as anything else.”
The TransEnterix haptics tech works on the concept of force feedback, he explained. Senhance’s interaction with tissue is fed back as haptic force to the surgeon’s hands. In demos of the system, surgeons are able to knot a suture while blindfolded, Pope said.
“We had so many surgeons that are using the Senhance say that it was enhancing their senses, it was taking their sense of feel, their sense of touch, and, certainly, their sense of sight and really enhancing it,” he said.
Senhance, which TransEnterix acquired for $100 million last fall as the Telelap ALF-X device, is sold under the European Union’s CE Mark; the company is on track for an FDA decision next year, Pope said. It was a timely buy, as the company shelved its flagship SurgiBot earlier this year after the FDA denied its submission for 510(k) clearance. Pope told us that the company is still working with the FDA on a plan for refiling for the SurgiBot.
“We continue to work closely with them and we’ve done a lot of work over the years on SurgiBot and still feel like that has a future at the right time,” he said, noting that the SurgiBot decision was a learning experience for both TransEnterix and the federal safety watchdog.
“Rest assured that there was a lot of learning, I think, both from the FDA and from our part, going through the SurgiBot 510(k) process. The FDA’s trying to understand how they want to interface with companies with robotically assisted surgical device technology – RASD is how they’re classifying that,” he explained. “We were the 1st one in quite some time that put 1 through, other than [Intuitive].”
Senhance is a different prospect thanks to the CE Mark and attendant clinical data. The device is indicated across a broad array of specialties including general surgery, gynecology, urology and thoracic surgery. Pope cited an “eye-sensing” feature and the unit’s lower price point as further differentiators for Senhance. Instead of halting procedures to obtain a different camera view or requiring another body in the OR to shift the camera, Senhance is designed to track the surgeon’s eye movements to shift views.
“Our system actually tracks the eye movement of the surgeon and when you’re ready to move the camera, you just depress a button on your handle, look onto the screen wherever you want the camera to move and the camera moves accordingly,” he said.
TransEnterix, which posted its 1st revenues during the 3rd quarter, has enough cash on hand to sustain it through the end of next year, Pope said. The company had $43.3 million in cash and equivalents as of Sept. 30, CFO Joe Slattery told analysts yesterday during a conference call. Third-quarter revenues were $1.5 million, reflecting the August sale of a Senhance device to Humanitas Hospital in Milan. Losses for the quarter were down -14.5% to -$12.3 million, or -11¢ per share, compared with Q3 2015, TransEnterix said.