For two decades, Intuitive has developed innovative robotic surgical systems that have helped surgeons do more for their patients. Last year, surgeons used those systems in more than a million operations. Now, Intuitive is going even further, searching for new approaches to some of health care’s most complex problems. The company has started a $100-million investment fund to foster innovative solutions that use minimally invasive care. One of the companies being funded uses a high-tech gel to deliver cancer treatment where it’s needed.
Launched in 2020, Intuitive Ventures focuses on areas related to minimally invasive care, including machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), next-generation imaging technologies that can assist surgeons in the OR, diagnostics that can help detect disease earlier, and precision therapies that can deliver the right treatment to the right tissue.
The fund invests in the development of independent, early-stage start-ups, providing them with financial resources, insight into the health care landscape, close relationships with customers, and engineering and technological experience.
“It’s an incredible privilege of the job at Intuitive Ventures to invest in early-stage companies looking at the future of innovation and opportunities to really make an impact,” says Oliver Keown, the managing director of Intuitive Ventures. Keown, an M.D., began his career as a clinician; he sees his current role as a continuation of that mission.
Keown also sees his work as closely connected to Intuitive’s ongoing efforts to advance minimally invasive care. At their core, both involve innovating to help clinicians and hospitals do more for their patients.
Intuitive Ventures is currently funding seven startups, which are focusing on a range of areas, including software, artificial intelligence robotics, and drug delivery.
One of these companies is Surge Therapeutics, based in Boston. The company is focusing on a new way to prevent the recurrence of cancer after surgery, an issue that plays a role in 90 percent of cancer deaths. The company has developed a biodegradable gel that—counterintuitively—is liquid at room temperature but becomes gel-like at body temperature.
Because of this trait, the gel has the potential to be used as a precise, sustained, and lethal delivery mechanism for tumor-killing substances. Surge CEO Michael Goldberg envisions that surgeons will use the gel to fill areas where the tumor have been removed, reducing the possibility that any remaining cancer cells will survive and spread.
Watch our video on Surge and other startups funded by Intuitive Ventures:
Another is Endogenex, which is exploring a new strategy to treat Type 2 diabetes that has the potential to significantly alter the course of the disease. The company has developed a product that uses an endoscope-like device to apply electrical energy to the lining of the duodenum, a section of the small intestine. Research has shown that duodenal cells play a key role in the production of insulin, a chemical that helps regulate blood sugar levels. In people with Type 2 diabetes, these cells may not function properly. The energy pulse may trigger the regeneration of healthy cells, improving insulin production. The procedure takes under an hour, and most patients can return home the same day with few side effects. It is now being studied in early-stage clinical trials.
Other startups that are being funded by Intuitive Ventures include:
Neocis, which aims to bring robotic surgery to dentistry, potentially improving the accuracy and precision of dental implant procedures. Preliminary studies suggest that this system, known as Yomi, may reduce complications such as misplaced implants or infection, while also speeding up procedures.
KelaHealth, which is using artificial intelligence to help doctors predict patients’ risk of developing complications after surgery.
Flywheel, which has built a data management platform to help researchers organize and share large amounts of health care data.
Medcrypt, which is developing modern cybersecurity features to essential medical devices and technology.
Optellum, which uses artificial intelligence to help clinicians diagnose lung cancer.
As exciting as this work is, Keown, the managing director, says the fund is only getting started.
“We want to create a powerful ecosystem for minimally invasive care,” he says. “We understand that we can’t do this alone. Our goal is to be known as a partner of choice throughout the industry.”