J&J spends $3.4 billion in cash for Auris Health’s lung cancer diagnostics and surgical robots

Johnson & Johnson’s robotic surgery and medical device division, Ethicon, is dropping $3.4 billion in cash to pick up Auris Health, a developer of robotic diagnostics and surgical devices initially focused on detecting and treating lung cancer. The healthcare giant said an additional $2.35 billion in payouts may be possible if Auris hits certain milestones. […]

Johnson & Johnson’s robotic surgery and medical device division, Ethicon, is dropping $3.4 billion in cash to pick up Auris Health, a developer of robotic diagnostics and surgical devices initially focused on detecting and treating lung cancer.

The healthcare giant said an additional $2.35 billion in payouts may be possible if Auris hits certain milestones.

Auris’ acquisition is likely a windfall for investors including Lux Capital and Coatue Management, which both invested as part of a whopping $280 million round the company closed two years ago.

Founded by serial entrepreneur Fred Moll, whose previous companies included the 22-year-old, publicly traded Intuitive Surgical, a robotic surgical systems manufacturer now worth around $61.4 billion, and Hansen Medical, a company that developed tools to manipulate catheters; Auris recently received approval from the Food and Drug Administration for its novel, robotic approach to surgery.

Last year, the company unveiled its Monarch platform, which takes an endoscopic approach to surgical procedures that is less invasive and more accurate to test for — and treat — cancer.

“A CT scan shows a mass or a lesion,” Dr. Moll said in an interview at the time. “It doesn’t tell you what it is. Then you have to get a piece of lung, and if it’s a small lesion. It isn’t that easy — it can be quite a traumatic procedure. So you’d like to do it a very systematic and minimally invasive fashion. Currently it’s difficult with manual techniques and 40-percent of the time, there is no diagnosis. This is has been a problem for many years and [inhibits] the ability of a clinician to diagnose and treat early-stage cancer.”

Monarch uses an endoscopy procedure to insert a flexible robot into hard to reach places inside the human body. Doctors trained on the system use video game-style controllers to navigate inside, with help from 3D models.

“In this new era of health care, we’re aiming to simplify surgery, drive efficiency, reduce complications and improve outcomes for patients, ultimately making surgery safer,” said Ashley McEvoy, Executive Vice President, Worldwide Chairman, Medical Devices, Johnson & Johnson, in a statement. “We believe the combination of best-in-class robotics, advanced instrumentation and unparalleled end-to-end connectivity will make a meaningful difference in patient outcomes.”

As part of the deal, J&J is bringing Dr. Moll in-house (which may be as much of a coup for the company as the acquisition of Auris and its patent portfolio.

“We’re thrilled to be joining Johnson & Johnson to help push the boundaries of what is possible in medical robotics and improve the lives of patients across the globe. Together, we will be able to dramatically accelerate our collective product innovation to develop new interventional solutions that redefine optimal patient outcomes,” said Dr. Moll, in a statement. “This combination is a testament to the incredible work of the Auris Health team and the innovation engine behind the Monarch Platform, which represents a huge step forward in endoluminal technology. We look forward to continuing to shape the future of intervention with the added expertise and resources of the world’s largest healthcare organization.”

J&J says that the Monarch robotics platform will play an important role within the Lung Cancer Initiative within the company, and, more broadly, will be used to support the company’s approach to open, laparoscopic, robotic, and endoluminal surgeries.

Other robotics initiatives are underway at J&J through work with Verb, the partnership it has with Verily, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, and through its acquisition of Orthotaxy, a robotics company focused on knee surgeries.

“We are very committed to our partnership with Verily on the development of the Verb Surgical Platform. Collectively, these technologies, together with our market-leading medical implants and solutions, create the foundation of a comprehensive digital ecosystem to help support the surgeon and patient before, during and after surgery,” said Ms. McEvoy, in a statement.

J&J spends $3.4 billion in cash for Auris Health’s lung cancer diagnostics and surgical robots

Johnson & Johnson’s robotic surgery and medical device division, Ethicon, is dropping $3.4 billion in cash to pick up Auris Health, a developer of robotic diagnostics and surgical devices initially focused on detecting and treating lung cancer. The healthcare giant said an additional $2.35 billion in payouts may be possible if Auris hits certain milestones. […]

Johnson & Johnson’s robotic surgery and medical device division, Ethicon, is dropping $3.4 billion in cash to pick up Auris Health, a developer of robotic diagnostics and surgical devices initially focused on detecting and treating lung cancer.

The healthcare giant said an additional $2.35 billion in payouts may be possible if Auris hits certain milestones.

Auris’ acquisition is likely a windfall for investors including Lux Capital and Coatue Management, which both invested as part of a whopping $280 million round the company closed two years ago.

Founded by serial entrepreneur Fred Moll, whose previous companies included the 22-year-old, publicly traded Intuitive Surgical, a robotic surgical systems manufacturer now worth around $61.4 billion, and Hansen Medical, a company that developed tools to manipulate catheters; Auris recently received approval from the Food and Drug Administration for its novel, robotic approach to surgery.

Last year, the company unveiled its Monarch platform, which takes an endoscopic approach to surgical procedures that is less invasive and more accurate to test for — and treat — cancer.

“A CT scan shows a mass or a lesion,” Dr. Moll said in an interview at the time. “It doesn’t tell you what it is. Then you have to get a piece of lung, and if it’s a small lesion. It isn’t that easy — it can be quite a traumatic procedure. So you’d like to do it a very systematic and minimally invasive fashion. Currently it’s difficult with manual techniques and 40-percent of the time, there is no diagnosis. This is has been a problem for many years and [inhibits] the ability of a clinician to diagnose and treat early-stage cancer.”

Monarch uses an endoscopy procedure to insert a flexible robot into hard to reach places inside the human body. Doctors trained on the system use video game-style controllers to navigate inside, with help from 3D models.

“In this new era of health care, we’re aiming to simplify surgery, drive efficiency, reduce complications and improve outcomes for patients, ultimately making surgery safer,” said Ashley McEvoy, Executive Vice President, Worldwide Chairman, Medical Devices, Johnson & Johnson, in a statement. “We believe the combination of best-in-class robotics, advanced instrumentation and unparalleled end-to-end connectivity will make a meaningful difference in patient outcomes.”

As part of the deal, J&J is bringing Dr. Moll in-house (which may be as much of a coup for the company as the acquisition of Auris and its patent portfolio.

“We’re thrilled to be joining Johnson & Johnson to help push the boundaries of what is possible in medical robotics and improve the lives of patients across the globe. Together, we will be able to dramatically accelerate our collective product innovation to develop new interventional solutions that redefine optimal patient outcomes,” said Dr. Moll, in a statement. “This combination is a testament to the incredible work of the Auris Health team and the innovation engine behind the Monarch Platform, which represents a huge step forward in endoluminal technology. We look forward to continuing to shape the future of intervention with the added expertise and resources of the world’s largest healthcare organization.”

J&J says that the Monarch robotics platform will play an important role within the Lung Cancer Initiative within the company, and, more broadly, will be used to support the company’s approach to open, laparoscopic, robotic, and endoluminal surgeries.

Other robotics initiatives are underway at J&J through work with Verb, the partnership it has with Verily, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, and through its acquisition of Orthotaxy, a robotics company focused on knee surgeries.

“We are very committed to our partnership with Verily on the development of the Verb Surgical Platform. Collectively, these technologies, together with our market-leading medical implants and solutions, create the foundation of a comprehensive digital ecosystem to help support the surgeon and patient before, during and after surgery,” said Ms. McEvoy, in a statement.

Up to $818 million deal between J&J and Locus Biosciences points to a new path for CRISPR therapies

The up to $818 million deal between Locus Biosciences and Janssen Pharmaceuticals (a division of Johnson & Johnson) that was announced yesterday points toward a new path for CRISPR gene editing technologies and (potentially) the whole field of microbiome-targeted therapies. Based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., Locus is commercializing research initially developed by scientists at […]

The up to $818 million deal between Locus Biosciences and Janssen Pharmaceuticals (a division of Johnson & Johnson) that was announced yesterday points toward a new path for CRISPR gene editing technologies and (potentially) the whole field of microbiome-targeted therapies.

Based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., Locus is commercializing research initially developed by scientists at North Carolina State University that focused on Cas3 proteins, which devour DNA Pac-Man-style, rather than edit it like the more well-known Cas9-based CRISPR technologies being used by companies like Caribou Biosciences, Editas Medicine, Synthego, Intellia Therapeutics, CRISPR Therapeutics and Beam Therapeutics.

While the Cas9 CRISPR technologies can edit targeted DNA — either deleting specific genetic material or replacing it with different genetic code — Cas3 simply removes DNA strains. “Its purpose is the destruction of invading DNA,” says Locus chief executive, Paul Garofolo.

The exclusive deal between Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Locus gives Janssen the exclusive license to develop, manufacture and commercialize CRISPR-Cas3-enhanced products targeting bacterial pathogens for the potential treatment of respiratory and other organ infections.

Under the terms of the deal, Locus is getting $20 million in upfront payments and could receive up to $798 million in potential future development and commercial milestone payments and any royalties on potential product sales.

A former executive at Valiant Pharmaceuticals and Paytheon, Garofolo was first introduced to the technology that would form the core of Locus as an executive in residence at North Carolina State University. It was there that he met Dr. Chase Beisel and Rodolphe Barrangou, whose research into Cas3 proteins would eventually be productized by Locus.

The company spun out of NC State in 2015 and raised its first cash from the North Carolina Biotech Center a year later.

Locus is already commercializing a version of its technology with bacteriophages designed to target e coli bacteria to treat urinary tract infections. The company is on target to begin its first clinical trials in the third quarter of the year.

The focus on bacterial infection and removing harmful bacteria while ensuring that the rest of a patient’s microbiome is intact is a huge step forward for treating diseases that scientists believe could be linked to bacterial health in a body, according to Garofolo.

“Most microbiome companies are about adding probiotics to your body,” says Garofolo, representing a thesis that introducing “good” bacteria to the body can offset any harmful pathogens that have infected it.

“Things you’re exposed to are creating the groundwork for an infection or disease, or exacerbating an existing disease,” says Garofolo. And while he believes that the microbiome is the next big field for scientific discovery, the approach of adding probiotics to a system seems less targeted and effective to him.

Already, Garofolo has managed to convince investors of his approach. In addition to the initial outside investment from the North Carolina Biotech Center, Locus has attracted $25 million in financing from investors, including Artis Ventures and the venture capital arm of the Chinese internet giant, Tencent.

Meanwhile, investors have spent millions backing alternative approaches to improving human health through the manipulation of the microbiome.

Companies like Second Genome, Viome and Ubiome are all using approaches that identify bacteria in the human body and try to regulate the production of that bacteria through diet and probiotic pills. It’s an approach that allows these companies to skirt the more stringent requirements the Food and Drug Administration has put in place for drugs.

That doesn’t mean that extensive amounts of research haven’t gone into the development of these probiotics. Seed, a Los Angeles-based startup that launched last year, has recruited as its chief scientist George Reid, the leading scientist on microbial health and the microbiome.

Founded by Raja Dhir, a graduate from the University of Southern California and a leading researcher on microbiotics in his own right, and Ara Katz, the former chief marketing officer of BeachMint and an MIT Media Lab fellow, Seed focuses on developing probiotic treatments using well-established research.

“Foundational to our approach is that it’s not which microbes are present in your gut… It’s based on looking at what specific microbes can do to a healthy individual to improve that status of health independent of what is already present,” Dhir said in an interview around the company’s launch last June. “It’s a little bit less exciting from a tech perspective, but it’s hardcore grounded in basic science… The question is, does this have changes and effects in validated bio-makers in a controlled and placebo setting?”

Dhir said that a basic understanding of how different bacteria can influence health is necessary before getting into the benefits of personalization.

These things can dance between drugs and nutrition,” Dhir said. “Probacteria are an additional lever that people should pull… like diet and exercise and cessation of smoking… In every correspondence we always have been and need to be clear that this should never be seen as a replacement of therapies.”

By contrast, the tools that Locus is developing are very much therapies with potentially far-reaching implications for illnesses, from irritable bowel syndrome to gastrointestinal cancers and even neurological disorders.

“The science [around the microbiome] is early, but it is very well-known that a potentially deadly pathogen should be removed from your body,” Garofolo said.

Up to $818 million deal between J&J and Locus Biosciences points to a new path for CRISPR therapies

The up to $818 million deal between Locus Biosciences and Janssen Pharmaceuticals (a division of Johnson & Johnson) that was announced yesterday points toward a new path for CRISPR gene editing technologies and (potentially) the whole field of microbiome-targeted therapies. Based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., Locus is commercializing research initially developed by scientists at […]

The up to $818 million deal between Locus Biosciences and Janssen Pharmaceuticals (a division of Johnson & Johnson) that was announced yesterday points toward a new path for CRISPR gene editing technologies and (potentially) the whole field of microbiome-targeted therapies.

Based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., Locus is commercializing research initially developed by scientists at North Carolina State University that focused on Cas3 proteins, which devour DNA Pac-Man-style, rather than edit it like the more well-known Cas9-based CRISPR technologies being used by companies like Caribou Biosciences, Editas Medicine, Synthego, Intellia Therapeutics, CRISPR Therapeutics and Beam Therapeutics.

While the Cas9 CRISPR technologies can edit targeted DNA — either deleting specific genetic material or replacing it with different genetic code — Cas3 simply removes DNA strains. “Its purpose is the destruction of invading DNA,” says Locus chief executive, Paul Garofolo.

The exclusive deal between Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Locus gives Janssen the exclusive license to develop, manufacture and commercialize CRISPR-Cas3-enhanced products targeting bacterial pathogens for the potential treatment of respiratory and other organ infections.

Under the terms of the deal, Locus is getting $20 million in upfront payments and could receive up to $798 million in potential future development and commercial milestone payments and any royalties on potential product sales.

A former executive at Valiant Pharmaceuticals and Paytheon, Garofolo was first introduced to the technology that would form the core of Locus as an executive in residence at North Carolina State University. It was there that he met Dr. Chase Beisel and Rodolphe Barrangou, whose research into Cas3 proteins would eventually be productized by Locus.

The company spun out of NC State in 2015 and raised its first cash from the North Carolina Biotech Center a year later.

Locus is already commercializing a version of its technology with bacteriophages designed to target e coli bacteria to treat urinary tract infections. The company is on target to begin its first clinical trials in the third quarter of the year.

The focus on bacterial infection and removing harmful bacteria while ensuring that the rest of a patient’s microbiome is intact is a huge step forward for treating diseases that scientists believe could be linked to bacterial health in a body, according to Garofolo.

“Most microbiome companies are about adding probiotics to your body,” says Garofolo, representing a thesis that introducing “good” bacteria to the body can offset any harmful pathogens that have infected it.

“Things you’re exposed to are creating the groundwork for an infection or disease, or exacerbating an existing disease,” says Garofolo. And while he believes that the microbiome is the next big field for scientific discovery, the approach of adding probiotics to a system seems less targeted and effective to him.

Already, Garofolo has managed to convince investors of his approach. In addition to the initial outside investment from the North Carolina Biotech Center, Locus has attracted $25 million in financing from investors, including Artis Ventures and the venture capital arm of the Chinese internet giant, Tencent.

Meanwhile, investors have spent millions backing alternative approaches to improving human health through the manipulation of the microbiome.

Companies like Second Genome, Viome and Ubiome are all using approaches that identify bacteria in the human body and try to regulate the production of that bacteria through diet and probiotic pills. It’s an approach that allows these companies to skirt the more stringent requirements the Food and Drug Administration has put in place for drugs.

That doesn’t mean that extensive amounts of research haven’t gone into the development of these probiotics. Seed, a Los Angeles-based startup that launched last year, has recruited as its chief scientist George Reid, the leading scientist on microbial health and the microbiome.

Founded by Raja Dhir, a graduate from the University of Southern California and a leading researcher on microbiotics in his own right, and Ara Katz, the former chief marketing officer of BeachMint and an MIT Media Lab fellow, Seed focuses on developing probiotic treatments using well-established research.

“Foundational to our approach is that it’s not which microbes are present in your gut… It’s based on looking at what specific microbes can do to a healthy individual to improve that status of health independent of what is already present,” Dhir said in an interview around the company’s launch last June. “It’s a little bit less exciting from a tech perspective, but it’s hardcore grounded in basic science… The question is, does this have changes and effects in validated bio-makers in a controlled and placebo setting?”

Dhir said that a basic understanding of how different bacteria can influence health is necessary before getting into the benefits of personalization.

These things can dance between drugs and nutrition,” Dhir said. “Probacteria are an additional lever that people should pull… like diet and exercise and cessation of smoking… In every correspondence we always have been and need to be clear that this should never be seen as a replacement of therapies.”

By contrast, the tools that Locus is developing are very much therapies with potentially far-reaching implications for illnesses, from irritable bowel syndrome to gastrointestinal cancers and even neurological disorders.

“The science [around the microbiome] is early, but it is very well-known that a potentially deadly pathogen should be removed from your body,” Garofolo said.

Investors see an opportunity framed in Lensabl’s prescription lens fulfillment business

Lensabl, the company that has built a business putting prescription lenses into any style of glasses frame, has raised $3.7 million in a new round of funding.  Lensabl makes it easy to put new lenses in a favorite pair of shades or glasses Based in Los Angeles, Lensabl already has an agreement inked with the […]

Lensabl, the company that has built a business putting prescription lenses into any style of glasses frame, has raised $3.7 million in a new round of funding. 

Based in Los Angeles, Lensabl already has an agreement inked with the city’s latest tech wunderkind, partnering with the spectacles producing augmented reality luminaries at Snap.

“We are the preferred prescription provider of Snapchat Spectacles,” says Lensabl chief executive Andrew Bilinsky. “[And] we are already talking to and partnering with a variety of brands to start and scale their prescription operations [and] really scale our direct to consumer lens business.”

Powering that effort is the new $3.7 million in funding which came from a clutch of big name strategic partners, venture firms and individual angel investors. Rogue Venture Partners, the same lead investor behind SightBox, a contact lens subscription business acquired by Johnson & Johnson, led the round. And additional investors including Birchmere Ventures, Aspect Ventures, Cherry Tree Investments, Amplify, Luma Launch, Watertower Ventures, and Crowdsmart (a crowdfunding platform) also participated in the financing.

For Bilinsky, the opportunity in setting up a business exclusively focused on filling prescriptions means reduced prices and better options for the estimated 188.7 million people who wear corrective eyewear or contact lenses in the U.S.

“We’re offering every different type of prescription lens for every different frame brand,” says Biinsky. “[We’re] mimicking what a customer can do going into a Lens Crafters at up to 70% cheaper than a traditional provider.”

And given the changing ways in which glasses buyers are shopping for frames, launching a business that caters to providing the right lenses at a lower price makes sense, Bilinsky says.

“With Amazon becoming the largest individual reseller of eyewear in the U.S., every frame that people buy that needs to be re-lensed. It’s a secondary market in the same way that you would put new rims on the car,” says Billinsky.

Lensabl offers about 400 different permutations of lenses and 20 different tint colors. “It’s a customization platform for your frames,” says Bilinsky.