Auris Surgical Robotics, a 10-year-old, San Carlos, Ca.-based surgical robotics company that was cofounded by serial entrepreneur Frederic Moll, has quietly raised $280 million in Series D funding led by Coatue Management.
The company had previously raised at least $184 million from investors, shows Crunchbase. Its other backers include Mithril Capital Management (cofounded by Peter Thiel and Ajay Royan), Lux Capital, NaviMed Capital, and Highland Capital Partners.
Auris is an interesting company, largely because of Moll, who previously founded three other companies, including 22-year-old, publicly traded Intuitive Surgical, which also makes robotic surgical systems and whose market cap is right now hovering around $35 billion, and Hansen Medical, a company that developed tools to manipulate catheters. Moll cofounded Hansen in 2002 and took it public in 2006. The company, which never gained the kind of traction that Intuitive has enjoyed, was acquired last summer by Auris in a deal valued at roughly $80 million.
Auris announced its newest round of funding in an easy-to-miss paragraph on its website, and it's been similarly low key about its work to date, though it says that lung cancer is the "first disease" in its sights.
It's a huge opportunity (alas). Despite a wealth of information about the dangers of smoking, the World Health Organization estimates that one billion people in the world smoke currently, which leads to 6 million deaths per year.
As Auris notes, that's more victims than patients who die every year from prostate, breast, and colon cancer combined.
According to Auris, one reason lung cancer remains so dangerous is that diagnosis often comes late, when the cancer has spread. Indeed, it says its technology will allow doctors to access early-stage lung cancer without incisions, allowing for more accurate diagnosis, as well as more targeted treatment.
It's making progress toward that end, seemingly. Last year, the FDA approved a medical robot that was identified in its application as the Auris Robotic Endoscopy System or ARES robot. A close read by the journal IEEE Spectrum of other patents Auris has filed suggest it's working on flexible robots that can use the body’s natural openings, including the mouth, to address conditions of the throat, lungs and gastrointestinal system. (The company, which isn't talking to reporters currently, apparently confirmed to IEEE Spectrum last year that it had already carried out at least one successful human trial of such a robot, outside the United States.)
Such surgeries are called endolumenal surgeries, and reportedly, because they don't involve big incisions, they are especially attractive in cases that involve frail patients, for whom more invasive procedures can be life ending.
According to IEEE Spectrum's thorough report -- which was published last year -- one of Auris’s patent applications includes mentions of "lasers, forceps, needles, graspers, and scalpels," which it said could potentially enable a surgeon to "do everything from biopsies and gastric repairs to excising tumors."
Put another way, lung cancer is the first frontier, but it's hardly the last.