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Robot Startup Auris Reels In $280M for Less Invasive Lung Surgery

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Auris Surgical Robotics has kept a tight lid on the details about its technology, its surgical targets, and its financial backers. On Friday, the stealthy startup gave a small peek at all three.

San Carlos, CA-based Auris has raised $280 million in a Series D round of financing, the company revealed on its website. The company says Coatue Management led the latest round, which included earlier investors Mithril Capital Management, Lux Capital, and Highland Capital. According to an SEC filing posted Friday, Auris raised $280.2 million in a round targeting $285.1 million. So far, 39 investors have participated in this latest round, the filing shows.

Auris last raised capital nearly two years ago, a $149.5 million round whose investors were undisclosed. At the time, the company would not discuss what types of surgery it was pursuing or how it planned to use the money. An Auris spokesman on Friday confirmed the latest funding round and said that the company has raised a total of $530 million. He declined to discuss any additional details about the funding or the company’s technology. But on the Auris website, the company says its first target is lung cancer.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women, according to the American Cancer Society. Cancers of the lungs and lung airways will be diagnosed in an estimated 222,500 men and women in the U.S. this year. These cancers will kill an estimated 155,870 patients. Auris contends that the reason that lung cancer is so deadly is that diagnosis and treatment come in the later stages of the disease, after it has spread.

“With our technology, physicians will be able to access early stage lung cancer without incisions, allowing accurate diagnosis and targeted treatment,” Auris says on its website.

Auris is led by co-founder and CEO Frederic Moll, a serial entrepreneur who might best be known for his role with Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ: ISRG), the robotic surgery juggernaut he co-founded in 1995 and led as its first CEO. Last year, Sunnyvale, CA-based Intuitive reported $2.7 billion in total revenue. Intuitive’s flagship da Vinci robotic surgical system enables surgeons to perform minimally invasive procedures, including lung cancer surgeries, through small incisions in the chest. This approach was an advancement over older surgical techniques that require a large incision and a mechanical rib spreader.

Though Auris has not disclosed how it plans to perform procedures without incisions, one clue comes from an FDA decision last year regarding an Auris device. In May 2016, an FDA review concluded that the Auris Robotic Endoscopy System (ARES) was substantially equivalent to commercially available bronchoscopes, devices that are inserted through the nose or mouth that allow clinicians to examine a patient’s airways. Meeting the standard of substantial equivalence clears the way for a company to commercially launch a new medical device.

The FDA documents have scant details about the Auris device and how it would work. However, if Auris’ robot can perform lung procedures without incisions, it would mark an advancement over surgical robots from Intuitive and others. A number of surgical robot startups are in various stages of development and clinical testing. Titan Medical (TSX: TMD) has developed a surgical robot system called SPORT, which performs minimally invasive procedures through a single incision. The Toronto-based company has laid out a timeline that sets testing goals for 2017, leading to plans to file for regulatory approval in the U.S. and Europe in 2018.

TransEnterix (NYSE MKT: TRXC) could reach the market sooner. In April, the company filed for FDA clearance for Senhance, the surgical robotic system that the Research Triangle Park, NC, company acquired in a 2015 deal with Italy-based SOFAR. Senhance is already commercially available in Europe, where it has regulatory clearance for minimally invasive surgeries in the abdomen and pelvis. For now, TransEnterix has shelved SurgiBot, a separate robotic surgery platform that the company developed on its own. Last year, the FDA rejected that robotic technology.

Besides the technology that Auris has developed in-house, the company also has technology from another company that Moll co-founded, Hansen Medical. In 2005, Hansen licensed from Intuitive technology that has potential applications diagnosing and treating disease from within blood vessels, according to Hansen’s regulatory filings. The company went on to develop “flexible robotics” that could be used in what it called intravascular robotics. Last year, Auris acquired Hansen in a deal that valued that company at $80 million.

Lung cancer metastasis image by the National Cancer Institute.