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From Site Selection magazine, November 2021

It’s All About Precision

Companies like Smith + Nephew are aiming for perfection.
Photo courtesy of Smith + Nephew

by Gary Daughters

Despite the slowdown in elective medical procedures prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 has been a banner year for medical device manufacturers. Capital commitments within the sector, according to a report issued in late July by Silicon Valley Bank, are way up.

“Looking at dollars raised,” says the report, “U.S. and European medical device startups raised $4.6 billion in the first half of this year, putting 2021 on pace to eclipse total dollars raised in 2020 ($5.2 billion raised) and 2019 ($4.8 billion raised).” While North American companies continue to dominate, the report notes that European startups accounted for 34% of the dollars raised by medical device companies, up from 11% in 2020.

“The rise in investments is equally robust,” the report asserts, with 247 medical device companies in the U.S and Europe having raised rounds in the first half of 2021, “putting it on track to smash past tallies in 2020 (300 deals), 2019 (277 deals) and 2018 (263 deals).”
What’s driving the surge? The report identifies “large, later-stage financings,” with seven companies having raised more than $100 million in the first half of 2021, and 14 companies closing on financings between $50 million and $99 million. Robotics is leading the way.

"We have a tremendous pool of really great engineers from Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh.”
— Riddhit Mitra, Global Product Director, Smith + Nephew

CMR Surgical, a global surgical robotics business, completed what’s believed to be the world’s largest-ever medtech private financing round in June, a $600 million Series D haul led by Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank Vision Fund 2 and Ally Bridge Group. 

Four months later, the Cambridge, England–based company announced plans to open a new, large-scale manufacturing facility in Cambridgeshire to meet increasing global demand for its Versius Surgical Robot System. The new facility is to span 75,832 sq. ft. (7,045 sq. m.) and house up to 200 employees in production, quality control, manufacturing engineering, supply, operations and logistics.

Softbank’s Vision Fund 2 also led a $150 million funding round for EDDA Technology, a consortium of health tech firms based in the U.S. and China that integrates artificial intelligence and robotics with precision surgery. The company is also behind the IQQA Guide, a surgical navigation medical device for soft tissue organization. 

“Modern surgery has entered a new precision era,” says EDDA Technology CEO and president Jianzhong Qian. “EDDA Technology’s solution integrates intelligent medical imaging analytics with robots for precision surgery, and overcomes the problems of lack of intelligent planning and limited image guidance in traditional robot-assisted surgeries.”

A Home in Pittsburgh

U.K.-based Smith + Nephew recently moved into expanded space in Pittsburgh. Its robotics and R&D operation is to accommodate demand for the company’s CORI Surgical system, a robotics platform that supports orthopedic surgery.

Riddhit Mitra, Smith + Nephew’s global product director of robotics and surgical technologies, tells Site Selection that the company specializes in technologies for hip and knee replacements, joint replacement trauma and surgical technologies. 

“Ultimately, what we aim to do as a business is to restore people’s bodies and their minds with some really differentiated products when it comes to the replacements or repair of joints. With precision accuracy, we can help patients to enjoy ‘life unlimited’ in all its ways and forms.”

With locations in the medical devices hub of Memphis, Dallas and Andover, Massachusetts, Smith + Nephew leans on Pittsburgh as lead location for development of its CORI Surgical System, a hand-held device used by orthopedic surgeons.

“As the surgeon is cutting,” says Mitra, “there is a virtual depth where you don’t want to cut any further. So, even if the trigger is pressed, our device recognizes when it is about to get too deep, and it automatically cuts off. The cutting tool essentially disengages to prevent mistakes from happening. So, in robotic fashion, we give extreme precision control to surgeons, even if they are moving their hands.”

The technology was created at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University and commercialized by Blue Belt Technologies, founded in Pittsburgh in 2012 and acquired by Smith + Nephew in 2016. 

“We have a tremendous pool of really great engineers from Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh,” says Mitra. “We even recruit from overseas. That’s not a problem in Pittsburgh.”

Smith + Nephew, now occupying four floors, is the inaugural tenant at The Stacks at 3 Crossings in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, which fashions itself as “foodie heaven, a one-half-square-mile shopping district chock full of ethnic grocers, produce stands, meat and fish markets and sidewalk vendors.”

At full buildout, The Stacks is to include some 600,000 sq. ft. (55,740 sq. m.) of office space spread over six buildings, 300 residential units and 50,000 sq. ft. (4,645 sq. m.) of retail, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Other nearby enterprises include operations by Apple and Argo AI.

Building Upon a Legacy in Nebraska

New Jersey-based Becton Dickinson has contributed several hundred million injection devices to the federal campaign to vaccinate the country against COVID-19. Bolstered by its massive plant in Phelps County, Nebraska, the company is one of the world’s largest producers of insulin syringes. In early October, the company announced the completion of new syringe and needle manufacturing lines, under a hefty federal contract in deep red Nebraska.

In July 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Responses (ASPR) invested some $42 million into a $70 million capital project to further expand BD’s operations in Holdrege. 

“The expansion,” BD said in a release, “builds on the company’s deep commitment and legacy in supporting U.S. vaccination efforts through the domestic manufacturing of needles and syringes.”

As Site Selection reported in July, in recognition of Phelps County as a rural top performer, BD is “a serial investor in Holdrege of more than $200 million over the past five years. Becton Dickinson arrived in 1996 and now is the county’s biggest employer.”

Becton Dickson operates three other manufacturing facilities in Nebraska, two in Columbus and another in the heart of Broken Bow, smack dab in the middle of the Cornhusker State. 

Gary Daughters
Senior Editor

Gary Daughters

Gary Daughters is a Peabody Award winning journalist who began with Site Selection in 2016. Gary has worked as a writer and producer for CNN covering US politics and international affairs. His work has included lengthy stints in Washington, DC and western Europe. Gary is a 1981 graduate of the University of Georgia, where he majored in Journalism and Mass Communications. He lives in Atlanta with his teenage daughter, and in his spare time plays guitar, teaches golf and mentors young people.


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