Competition Intensifying in Japan Surgical Robot Market

REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
Surgical team is seen during a by-pass implantation operation using the Da Vinci robot at the MSWiA (Ministry of Interior and Administration) hospital in Warsaw Poland, March 16, 2021.

TOKYO (Jiji Press) — The surgical robot market in Japan, which has been dominated by a U.S. maker, is starting to see competition intensify with the launches of domestic products.

Robot-assisted surgery causes less damage on the patient’s body as robots can perform tasks with more precision than human hands.

More and more surgeries using robots have been covered by public health insurance in recent years. If prices fall as a result of growing competition, this may help spread the use of such robots.

In surgery using a robot, several small holes are drilled into the body of a patient, and flexible devices are inserted through the holes. A doctor controls the robot while watching a large 3D image. The robot-assisted surgeries have a lower risk of bleeding and leave only small scars on the patient’s body.

The da Vinci system of U.S. firm Intuitive Surgical Inc. has an overwhelming share of the global surgical robot market. The system received regulatory approval in Japan in 2009, and a total of 29 types of surgery, mainly for cancer, are currently covered by public health insurance. Some 570 da Vinci robots are now deployed at medical facilities across Japan.

In late January this year, Intuitive Surgical released the upgraded da Vinci SP system, which enables the entire surgery process to be completed through only one hole opened in a patient’s body. The company believes that there is a large potential for its surgical robots to spread in Japan.

Medicaroid Corp., a joint venture between Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. and Japanese clinical testing equipment maker Sysmex Corp., released the first domestically developed surgical robot, named “hinotori,” in 2020, in hopes of chipping away at the U.S. company’s dominance in the surgical robot market.

The robot is easy to use even in a smaller operating room. Medicaroid, based in Kobe, has also set up a system allowing doctors’ feedback to be swiftly reflected to improve the robot. Hinotori had been introduced at 28 medical facilities as of the end of September last year. The firm is aiming to achieve ¥100 billion in hinotori sales in fiscal 2030.

Medtronic PLC, an Irish medical equipment maker, released its Hugo system in Japan in December 2022. With four independent arms, the robot can be configured depending on what surgery is performed.

With robotic surgical systems each costing hundreds of millions of yen, many medical institutions have complained about a lack of price competition.