Investing in Proprio: New Needs Need New Techniques
By Alan Cohen and Armen Vidian 06.17.20
Seventy years ago, the artist Jackson Pollock noted that modern art, while built on the foundations of past masters, was something different, something that would move us in new directions. In his own words: “new needs need new techniques.”
Today, the surgical world, built on a strong foundation, faces new needs and new challenges. One of the biggest challenges is a glaring lack of surgeons. By 2032, the United States will lack as many as 23,000 surgeons. Given the industry’s current trajectory, as many as 5 billion people worldwide may not have access to surgery by 2030. One of the most effective ways to address this surgical gap is to train more surgeons. But more surgeons isn’t enough. We also need to enable them to perform more surgeries by improving overall surgical efficiency so they can safely conduct more per day.
Today’s surgical theater relies exclusively on expert human knowledge based on techniques learned from years of training, passed down from senior expert to surgeon-in-training, in an exercise of “see one, do one, teach one” to obtain mastery of skills. But the standard of expectations for performance has increased over time among patients, payers, and physicians themselves, making this tradition harder to extend into the modern environment. And the emergence of “minimally invasive” surgeries, which are less intrusive and leave fewer scars for the patient, are significantly harder for most physicians to perform. The current era of surgical skill demands a level of complexity that has made true mastery harder to attain, one where technology can play a strong role.
Today, surgery has created more data points to track and process, presenting opportunity for computation to assist and direct surgeons more efficiently to potentially yield better results more consistently. Computational advances can increase surgical mastery at scale globally.
When we first met Gabriel Jones, Jim Youngquist, Dr. Sam Browd, and Josh Smith, we saw a perfect fusion of clinical, technical, and entrepreneurial leadership skills at work. We saw how Proprio, with its advanced surgical navigation system is combining surgical expertise with computational advances to change surgical efficiency. Then we met the rest of the extended team in their offices in Seattle, we came away with one distinct impression: this was one of the best Series A teams we had ever seen.
Surgical operating rooms today are crowded with technologies to track images of patient anatomy or vital signs, but those tools do not integrate with the surgical workflow or combine disparate data to anticipate next steps or guide the intraoperative experience. Physicians are left to capture these siloed pieces of information – fluoroscopy, CT scans, MRIs, and myriad quantitative data – by diverting their attention from the patient. In order to focus on the procedure, doctors also rely on the judgment of highly compensated medical device sales representatives, usually present for every surgery, to translate the sum of all of this two-dimensional information into a dynamic, three-dimensional operating environment.
Current advances in artificial intelligence and robotics can go further than reliance on human recall, integrating data with real-time information on medical device performance and the situational circumstances of individual patient surgeries to enhance device and surgeon performance.
Proprio’s navigation system is a radical shift in how we perform surgery that enhances human capability and performance. It amplifies the expertise of surgeons in theater, supporting them as they perform more surgeries, safely. In leading the company’s A round, we saw a product vision where surgeons, once they used the Proprio system, would never want to be without it, just as drivers would not give up GPS in their cars. It takes a unique blend of leadership and skills to deliver this technology: the Proprio team are a diverse but tightly knit group of surgeons, medical device professionals, machine learning scientists, AR/VR experts, and engineers from a range of innovative and new technologies. We are excited to partner with Gabe, his team, and other industry leaders on the Board of Directors to build a foundational surgical navigation company that could build on the computational power now available in the operating room.
The market demands solutions that maximize physician impact and leverage data to deliver positive outcomes to more patients. DCVC is excited to invest in Proprio to bring advances in artificial intelligence directly to the point of surgical care.