UCLB spinout Panda Surgical’s ‘world first’ neurosurgical robots set to revolutionise complex surgery

16 February 2024

Less than 18 months ago, UCL Professor Danail Stoyanov and Robotic Surgery PhD Manios Dimitrakakis joined forces with UCLH Neurosurgeon Hani Marcus to form Panda Surgical. This UCLB spinout is now preparing the first human trial of its next-generation neurosurgical technology, which could transform treatment for hard-to-reach cancers.

Panda Surgical’s handheld surgery platform combines cutting-edge miniature robotics with AI to allow precise, delicate and accurate manoeuvres, transforming the efficacy and safety of minimally invasive neurosurgery. The company’s ascent has been rapid. In less than a year, it has gone from securing seed funding to demonstrating the unique handheld robotics system on ITV’s News at 10.

This novel technology, which the startup has now exclusively licensed, originated from the PhD research (supported by ‘The National Brain Appeal Innovation Fund’) of Dr. Dimitrakakis at the Wellcome/EPSRC Centre for Interventional and Surgical Sciences (WEISS) and UCL Computer science.

Currently, UCLB provides guidance and advice through its expertise and extensive network of relevant professionals. Panda Surgical’s Chief Executive Dr. Dimitrakakis, and Honorary Research Fellow in UCL Medical Physics & Biomedical Engineering, explains:

“Our system enhances the surgeon’s dexterity allowing them to perform delicate manoeuvres in confined spaces, while our accompanying software will support the surgeon’s decision-making. Our solution can modernise neurosurgery by enhancing it with the benefits of robotic surgery, but only at a fraction of its cost.”

The new technology is set to bring major benefits to patients, and transform the £3bn market in neurosurgery. Mr. Hani Marcus, Panda Surgical clinical lead, added:

“As a surgeon, I see our platform as a key tool in making surgeries simpler, which in turn enhances patient outcomes. It’s not just about the immediate benefits; it’s also about how we can drive hospital efficiency, maximising the value of our resources.”

The company’s initial seed-investment round raised £1m in May 2023 from PrimaNova Technologies, a medical device company and valuable global partner. When asked, Sampson Lau, PrimaNova Technologies President, noted his excitement about the clinical opportunity.

“We’re excited to partner with Panda in developing its transformative technology from a very early stage. We believe this platform will set a new standard in minimally invasive neurosurgery by improving safety, facilitating access to treatment, and reducing post-operative complications to make a tremendous impact on patients.”

The team was later awarded a £45,000 grant from NIHR to aid in research and development. This combined support has allowed them to conduct a series of pre-clinical and simulation studies where more than 20 neurosurgeons of varied expertise had the opportunity to compare the novel robotic devices with standard practices.

Prof. Stoyanov, Panda Surgical Scientific Advisor said: “The talented technical and clinical team and their rapid developments will lead to a first-in-human study in a very short timeframe – an achievement that is crucial for bringing such new devices to help patients.”

The market potential for this technology is estimated to be over $3.3bn. It focuses on minimally invasive neurosurgery, primarily to removing tumour tissue from the brain and spine, and it can be applied to pituitary cancers, intraventricular neuroendoscopy procedures, endoscopic spine surgery, and endoscopic sinus surgery.

Part of the stimulus for the development of Panda, and a spate of other robotic surgery startups, is the cessation of patents for da Vinci, one of the first robotic surgery technologies, introduced in 1999.

Learning from surgeons’ experiences will be key to the successful introduction of these next-generation systems. Dr. Dimitrakakis, alongside many developers, has commended the work and contribution of the IDEAL Collaboration, an international group dedicated to creating a framework to guide the introduction of robots and ensuring the medical world is well prepared for their use in surgery including the perspective of clinicians, patients, hospitals and developers.

With such a rapid pace of development and human trials imminent, there is much excitement about the potential for Panda’s technology to be transforming a wide range of neurosurgical approaches in the foreseeable future.