Intuitive Fosun (直观复星), the joint venture formed by Chinese pharmaceutical leader Fosun and Intuitive Surgical, the builder of world-famous da Vinci surgical system, unveiled the first Chinese-made da Vinci Xi surgical robot in Shanghai on October 11.
This could herald price cuts and higher penetration for robot-assisted surgeries (RAS) in China’s hospitals.
At a ceremony held at the headquarters of Intuitive Fosun in Pudong New Area, the new da Vinci Xi surgical robot met the public for the first time.
Chinese PLA General Hospital introduced what is known as China’s first da Vinci surgical system in 2006, which had revolutionized the way surgeries were performed across the world.
As of Q3 2023, the da Vinci surgical system completed more than 360 installations in China, offering minimally invasive and robot-assisted procedures on more than 420,000 patients.
Localized mass production
Driven by the bright market prospects, Intuitive Surgical agreed in 2017 to partner with Fosun Pharmaceutical, the medtech affiliate of the conglomerate, to establish a joint venture in Shanghai.
During the six years since its inception, Intuitive Fosun has come to build a localized surgical robot ecosystem that consists of technologies, training, service, support and solutions.
The two sides’ collaboration went a step further in 2022, when the joint venture broke ground on a head office and production facility in Pudong, the eastern part of Shanghai.
With an investment of 700 million yuan and covering a floor area of 2.08 hectares — or roughly three times the size of a standard football field — the joint venture’s new home will be tasked with developing and manufacturing the Xi surgical platform per se, the Ion endoluminal system, and a series of other robots and components.
The plant is due to be completed in 2024 and become operational in 2025.
“Home-made da Vinci surgical systems will then come out of this 700-million-yuan and 2.08-hectare facility and continue on its journey to the world market,” Pan Xiaofeng, chief executive officer of Intuitive Fosun, said at the ceremony on October 11.
Intuitive Fosun also said at the ceremony that the homegrown da Vinci Xi platform will be exhibited at the 6th China International Import Expo in Shanghai in November.
Lower the bar on wider adoption
Preparation has been going on for years to get the domestic version of da Vinci robots licensed by China’s national medical regulators.
In June, the company acquired a certificate from the National Medical Products Administration (NMPA) to market the robots.
Two months later, Intuitive Surgical obtained a permit again from NMPA to manufacture surgical robots within China, clearing the way for da Vinci to be mass produced to lower the bar on wider adoption.
By the time the plant is topped off, it is expected to churn out robots for the treatment of urological, gynecological, thoracic, pediatric and other diseases in need of surgeries.
Implications for domestic competition
Although localized production of the da Vinci platforms is welcomed by doctors and patients alike, it might come to the chagrin of domestic competitors because of the threat it poses to up-and-comers like MicroPort (微创医疗, HK:00853), Tinavi (天智航, HK: 688277), Shurui (术锐医疗) and Rossum Robot (罗森博特).
China has a budding surgical robot scene, as the country has embarked on a campaign to foster indigenous innovations on par with those from overseas as well as encourage them to replace imports.
Meanwhile, it seeks to raise the percentage of RAS at home, which are believed to be safer, less painful and conducive to a faster recovery.
Currently, the rate of RAS in China is way lower than that in advanced Western economies.
According to a report issued by Frost & Sullivan, China’s surgical robot market rocketed from a mere 880 million yuan to 4.19 billion yuan from 2017 to 2021, averaging a CAGR of 47.6%.
Despite its ballooning size, the industry’s is still a fraction of the global market for surgical robot, which has grown at a CAGR of 25.2% to US$10.91 billion from US$4.45 billion worldwide during the same period, cnrobopedia reported earlier.