This week it was my pleasure to speak with Berhard Guenther, Chairman and CEO of Opthorobotics. The company are heavily focused on fund raising as part of their series A round, and the product and technology are very exciting. In some countries the demand for intravitreal injections is far outstripping the capacity of physicians to manage. Swiss start-up Ophthorobotics is building a robot which will automatically perform intravitreal injections. The robot also saves the sites injected in previous treatments; this prevents multiple injections into the same spot.
This is a super exciting development and I love companies operating in the ophthalmic part of robotics. I really enjoyed the call with Bernhard who is a passionate champion and is larger than life – a real force of nature.
So, how did you end up in your role and in this industry? Where did your passion for medical devices / medical technology come from?
Very good question!
I've been in ophthalmology for 30 years now and initially had very different plans. I studied polymer technology and assumed that I would work somewhere in the plastics processing industry rather than in medical technology. Through private contacts, I came to a company that manufactures microsurgical eye instruments and high tech machines for eye surgery right after my diploma examination. Since then, I was infected by the “ophthalmic virus”. I realized Ophthalmology is a very innovative and technical discipline, and suits very well to curious and creative engineers with the passion to build companies.
In this field the journey to your end goal can be quite long and sometimes bumpy. On a day-to-day basis what motivates you and keeps you engaged?
I think it's the mixture of a lot of demands that are placed on you. Creativity, economic and interdisciplinary work, as well as sales and presentation skills are key skills that you should have.
In addition, the collaboration with the best scientists in this field is of great fascination. It is very easy to implement the latest scientific findings in medicines or medical products, some of which have a disruptive character and serve a large unmet medical need.
What is it that your company/ team do that you find so motivating?
The development of an automated, remote-controlled and robotically assisted injection system, which is to be used for the treatment of the most severe retinal diseases harbors a great deal of fascination, and is therefore a great source of motivation. We are a small team, but you can literally feel how much the founders and employees are driven by this idea.
What is so special about your technology/ solution?
Our injection system is a first in class development. Robotic systems have been established in medicine for many years - just think of the da Vinci system for prostate surgery. Ophthalmology has lagged behind a bit here, but efforts are now being made to catch up. Thanks to our device, doctors no longer need to administer the syringe manually.
With high-performance cameras, the correct puncture site is calculated and the needle is positioned so that a safe injection can take place. The injection can then be triggered by a doctor from a screen and monitored in real time. In addition, an iris scan ID ensures that the right patient and the right eye are always treated. In addition, high-speed eye tracking systems ensure that unwanted and sudden eye movements are reliably compensated for. These eye tracking technologies are already well known from refractive laser systems.
The robot also saves the sites injected in previous treatments. This prevents multiple injections into the same spot. In summary, one can say that our system will work more precisely and, above all, more efficiently and hygienically.
Bernhard, spill the beans, what exciting plans and future are you working towards next – what are your priorities?
We are currently concentrating on the successful completion of a Series A financing round. With this, we intend to make our automated injection system ready for clinical use. The aim is therefore, to carry out a clinical proof of concept study to prove the safety and effectiveness.
How is the market receiving your product/ solution? What makes you most proud in this area?
We have received more than positive feedback from leading retinal surgeons who consider robotic assisted intravitreal injections to be very useful in the near future. We are convinced that with the ever-increasing entry of robotics and AI into medicine, the acceptance of such systems will continue to increase, both on the medical side and among patients.
This makes us proud and confident that we can make an important contribution to a better and patient-friendly treatment of this ophthalmologic mass disease.
If you had found a time capsule from the future – it’s from 2033 – what do you think our market would look like/ what might be different for patients/ surgeons?
In the future, the use of robotic and AI-supported systems in medicine, and thus also in ophthalmology, will continue to increase significantly. It is not about replacing the doctor, but about giving them the best possible support for a successful treatment. In addition, the use of such systems can also contribute to significantly reducing the burden on the health care system, as they are more personnel-friendly, and overall more effective in a digitalized world.
What advice would you give to someone who's looking to enter this space? Whether that's a fresh grad straight out of university, but then also someone looking to transition their career?
I can only say that working in the eye care field offers great personal development opportunities. After all, it is about curing sight threatening diseases, or at least making the lives of patients more bearable. If you are passionate to be at the forefront of the latest development and if you like technical and science driven work, ophthalmology is the right place, independent of if you like to be in drug development or in medical devices.
Thanks so much for your time and good luck with the fund raising. Thanks again for your time and speak soon!
If this article has piqued your interest and you are keen to learn more, invest etc please reach out to Bernhard!