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The relentless rise of CMR Surgical as its Versius robot is adopted by operating theatres around the world

CMR Surgical is enjoying an exhilarating roll-out of its Versius robot to operating theatres around the world, with milestones struck at home and abroad.

The company, headquartered on the Evolution Business Park in Impington, is celebrating stellar results from Milton Keynes University Hospital, where Versius has helped it exceed its expected improvement in patient bed days, cutting recovery times and aiding the comfort of surgeons.

Versius at Milton Keynes University Hospital. Picture: CMR Surgical
Versius at Milton Keynes University Hospital. Picture: CMR Surgical

Meanwhile, it has been announced that West Hertfordshire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust (WHTH) will become the first to invest in two Versius systems from the outset, with Watford General Hospital set to benefit.

The company has also announced a new leadership team in Europe to deliver growth.

The robot, which biomimics the human arm, is already established in a number of hospitals in the NHS and across the continent, and in India, Australia and the Middle East.

Geographic expansion is continuing, however, with two leading teaching hospitals in Hong Kong - CUHK Medical Centre and Gleneagles Hospital – introducing Versius.

CMR Surgical hopes Hong Kong will prove a gateway to the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region for the business.

Per Vegard Nerseth, CEO of CMR Surgical . Picture: Keith Heppell
Per Vegard Nerseth, CEO of CMR Surgical . Picture: Keith Heppell

CEO Per Vegard Nerseth said: “We have eagerly awaited our launch in Hong Kong to offer the city’s world leading healthcare system access to pioneering new technology.

“I am thrilled that we have entered such a robust and innovative market. Hong Kong will be our springboard to the rest of APAC as we prepare for further developments in the region in due course and continue to set CMR Surgical on the global stage.”

CUHK Medical Centre was the first in Hong Kong to introduce the robot, using it in a multidisciplinary robotic programme, including general surgery and urology.

At Gleneagles, it has been deployed first in gynaecologic surgery, with plans to expand into general surgery and other fields.

The hospitals are offering robotic assisted surgery to patients through state-of-the-art specialty centres.

Per Vegard Nerseth, CEO of CMR Surgical . Picture: Keith Heppell
Per Vegard Nerseth, CEO of CMR Surgical . Picture: Keith Heppell

Dr Patrick Lau, deputy executive director of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, said: “Hong Kong is a leader in embracing innovation and technology, including in healthcare. A novel robotic system such as Versius that will positively impact patients fits perfectly into this mould.

“We are delighted that CMR has chosen Hong Kong as the launchpad for the Asia Pacific region as we believe that Hong Kong offers biotechnology companies an ideal springboard from which to expand into rapidly growing markets in mainland China, Asia and around the world.”

CMR is partnering with a leading training centre, the CUHK Jockey Club Minimally Invasive Surgical Skills Centre, located within the Prince of Wales Hospital, to deliver training and professional education to surgical teams.

Kin Cheung, head of Far East at CMR Surgical, said: “The impact of the pandemic has been felt across healthcare systems globally, and Hong Kong is no exception to this. With Hong Kong’s can-do spirit as their guide, hospitals are looking for innovative solutions that help to address this strain while providing accessible technology options to their patients.

CMR Surgical's Versius robot
CMR Surgical's Versius robot

“We are delighted to be partnering with leading hospitals, CUHK Medical Centre and Gleneagles Hospital Hong Kong, to expand the benefits of robotic keyhole surgery. It is great to see Versius standing out in Hong Kong and offering world leading surgeons a very different surgical robotic option. CMR will continue to expand our presence in Hong Kong in order to fulfil our customers’ growing demand.”

Versius enables more hospitals to bring the benefits of minimal access, or keyhole, surgery to patients, thanks to its small, portable and modular design. It means it is suitable for virtually any operating room, and can be moved between theatres.

Patients benefit from shorter recovery time, less pain and a lower risk of surgical site infections.

Traditional manual keyhole surgery is challenging for surgeons, however, meaning many complex procedures are performed via riskier open surgery.

Using a surgical robotic system like Versius offers increased accuracy, precision and dexterity. It is also proving easier for surgeons to learn - and that will be further aided by the launch of a virtual reality (VR) headset and VR professional education programme due to launch in July.

VR training will be offered for Versius from July 2022. Picture: CMR Surgical
VR training will be offered for Versius from July 2022. Picture: CMR Surgical

Versius features small, fully-wristed instruments, offers 3D HD vision, easy-to adopt instrument control and a choice of ergonomic working positions, while its Versius Connect app, Versius Trainer and CMR clinical registry provides medics with an array of data and insights to improve surgical care.

The benefits of the technology have been keenly felt at Milton Keynes University Hospital (MKUH) which introduced Versius to improve patient care and cut the number of cancelled procedures.

Pre-pandemic, around one per cent of the eight million yearly elective operations were cancelled at the last minute for non-clinical reasons, such as a lack of ward or critical care bed availability. At MKUH, this equated to about 160 patients per year.

Having introduced Versius across multiple surgical specialties, including gynaecology, colorectal, and general surgery - and a complex patient population including a high proportion of obese patients - the hospital has saved 450 bed days per year, exceeding the anticpated saving of 175 bed days. The assessment was made after 242 procedures.

And the hospital has reported particular success in gynaecological outcomes.

Versius at Milton Keynes University Hospital. Picture: CMR Surgical
Versius at Milton Keynes University Hospital. Picture: CMR Surgical

Fewer than half of the 450 women there requiring soft tissue surgery annually were offered a minimal access approach before the adoption of Versius.

That has changed after it became the first hospital in Europe to adopt the robot for a gynaecology programme.

Katy Philpott, associate director of operations, women and children’s health services at MKUH NHS Foundation Trust, explained: “For those women who were not offered MAS, the majority required five days in hospital and three or more months off work post-surgery. Following the introduction of Versius, many patients are returning home in 1-2 days post-surgery and experiencing a quicker return to normal activities, with the majority off work for between two to four weeks.

“Access to Versius has been a complete game-changer for the women we serve, and we are now delivering far more minimally invasive care as a result, which enables us to either reduce the cost burden of our interventions or offers further capacity to cope with demand.”

The hospital is also now delivering 93 per cent of colorectal surgery using minimal access surgery.

Barrie Keeler, consultant colorectal surgeon, said: “We didn’t need to change much to accommodate Versius – it allows us to approach our operations with a laparoscopic mindset.”

Versius at Milton Keynes University Hospital. Picture: CMR Surgical
Versius at Milton Keynes University Hospital. Picture: CMR Surgical

Jennifer Kearney, associate director of operations at the hospital trust, added: “We see a growing need to expand the use of Versius at MKUH, to scale some of the benefits we have already observed by developing the robotic program, and to offer a more standardised surgical practice. If Versius was implemented across the NHS as we have, there are big efficiency and quality gains to be made.”

Surgical teams reported improved comfort and a reduction in physical and cognitive stress, which could aid retention. A recent survey from CMR found that around 20 per cent of surgeons in the UK and the US think they may need to retire early due to the physical impact of conducting laparoscopic surgery.

Nidhi Singh, consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology at MKUH, said “I have known quite a few surgeon colleagues needing to take time off work with wrist and shoulder issues resulting from manual surgical techniques, and I believe Versius will help me to avoid these types of work-related injuries and extend my working career over time.”

Trust chief executive Prof Joe Harrison said: “For our surgeons too, this technology is transformative. Not only are we giving them access to the best tech that science can offer, we are also helping to prolong their careers by introducing a solution which reduces the physical strain on their bodies.

“If improving the health and wellbeing of our staff wasn’t enough, the return on investment we see by retaining the best staff for longer was reason enough to work with CMR.”

Mark Slack, chief medical officer at CMR Surgical, said: “Our goal when introducing Versius into a hospital setting is to provide valuable support to surgical staff at a time when healthcare systems are facing significant health and economic challenges.

“It has been a privilege to work with MKUH and we are delighted to see that Versius is helping to bring the benefits of MAS to more patients and that the team see scalable benefits and value across multiple specialities.”

CMR’s closest hospital trust - Cambridge University Hospitals - has yet to adopt Versius, although it is in the market for a new robot.

The team at Watford General Hospital, with Versius. Picture: CMR Surgical
The team at Watford General Hospital, with Versius. Picture: CMR Surgical

Down the road, West Hertfordshire Teaching Hospitals (WHTH) NHS Trust is clearly sold on its virtues, having recently been granted teaching hospital status.

Once fully implemented, WHTH plans to use its two robots across multiple specialties, including colorectal, gynaecology, urology and upper gastrointestinal surgery.

Vanash Patel, consultant colorectal surgeon at the trust, said: “We are excited to implement our surgical robotics programme, helping to drive better outcomes for our patients. With Versius, our surgeons will be able to perform complex operations with the enhanced precision and control that robotics offer.

“We are committed to scaling up our robotics programme at speed and believe that having two robotic systems from the outset, which can be easily moved between operating rooms and integrated into existing workflows, will help us achieve this.”

And it believes it will even act as a recruitment tool.

Mike van der Watt, chief medical officer at the trust said: “We have seen from other trusts that investment in next generation surgical technology has helped attract and retain talent, whilst helping to alleviate the physical toll experienced by surgeons during surgery.

“With two Versius surgical robotic systems, we will attract top talent as well as provide training and development opportunities for existing staff.”

The team at Watford General Hospital, with Versius. Picture: CMR Surgical
The team at Watford General Hospital, with Versius. Picture: CMR Surgical

Dr Slack agreed.

“An investment in surgical robotics like this will truly put WHTH on the map as a centre for excellence in health technology,” he said.

While buying robots outright can be a major capital outlay, CMR aims to break down this barrier with a range of flexible pricing models as it aims to steal a march on other big players in the market.

A new set-up for the company is designed to accelerate its adoption in Europe.

Olivier Wolber has joined as European general manager and will be responsible for implementation of the commercial and customer success strategy. He joins from Smith & Nephew, the multinational medical equipment business, where he held the position of managing director in multiple EMEA territories.

“I am excited and honoured to take on this new role at such a pivotal time in the Company’s journey as it continues to see massive opportunity and continued strong momentum in the regions and globally,” said Olivier.

Local general managers will report into Olivier. Appointments include Patricia Chesnais for France and Benelux and Massimo Carone for Spain and Portugal, while existing senior commercial experts at CMR, Franz Mazzone, will cover Italy and Ana Raduc will work in the UK and Ireland. Colin Eke has moved into the new role of new business development manager for Europe.

CMR Surgical's roboit Versius in use at the Gloucestershire Royal Hospital. Picture: CMR Surgical
CMR Surgical's roboit Versius in use at the Gloucestershire Royal Hospital. Picture: CMR Surgical

Steve Bell, CMR’s chief commercial officer, said: “Europe is a key strategic market for CMR and having highly accomplished leaders with broad, senior executive experience on the ground in Europe will enable us to empower local teams and make decisions closer to the customer.”

The company is building a new large-scale manufacturing site in Ely to keep up with demand.

Per Vegard, who was brought in as CEO in 2020 to steer the global commercialisation effort, added: “This is a significant step to delivering our strategy and building a highly successful surgical robotics business. We are delighted to have outstanding senior talent to help shape our offering in Europe and be a part of CMR’s history. With this dynamic team at the cross section of commercial and customer experience, we hope to create stronger partnerships and accelerate the adoption of Versius across Europe.”

CMR Surgical has certainly come a long way since it was launched in 2014. Following earlier funding rounds, it raised an incredible £425million ($600m) in June 2021 - the largest ever medtech private fundraising round in the world - to help bring its robot to more hospitals. The Series D financing valued the company at $3billion.

Read more

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CMR Surgical’s decision to build manufacturing site in Ely is ‘great news’

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