Yale professor invents no-scar surgical device

At the Yale School of Medicine on Wednesday, professor and surgeon Kurt Roberts presented his new invention, the Roberts Retractor, which allows abdomen surgery to be done with a single incision, a serious improvement over the current three to four required.

The event was sponsored by Yale’s Office of Cooperative Research and attended by small crowd of mostly medical professionals and entrepreneurs. Roberts said at the lecture that his device is used for surgeries that remove the appendix or gallbladder. Normally, these surgeries require four incisions for four devices, enabling the doctor to see, move, and extract the organ. His all-in-one device allows the surgeon to make only one incision, or “port,” for the operation. Roberts showed several photographs of patients after surgery, pointing out that because he made the incision in patient’s belly button (“the natural scar”), there was no visible post-operation scar.

He added that he and his business partner Eleanor Tandler will sell the device through their new startup, NovaTract.

But because the University owns the patents for any work-related inventions by faculty or students, Roberts said he will only receive 30 percent of the profits of his invention.

Faculty and students report work-related inventions to the Office of Cooperative Research, which decides if an invention is worth patenting, and files the patent application for the inventor, Roberts told the News.

“There is a royalty stream coming back to Yale,” Roberts said.

The office pays the patent processing fee for the inventor, which was $30,000 for Roberts’s device. In return, the office receives a portion of any income generated from the patent, 70 percent in the case of the Roberts Retractor. Roberts added that the office has made the patent process very easy for him.

Bill Wiesler, the director of new ventures at the Office of Cooperative Research, said that part of the department’s mission is to create a dynamic business environment for New Haven.

“What we’re doing is never just about money,” he said.

One attendee of the lecture, Manny Ratafia, an investor and entrepreneur, explained the importance of Roberts inventing a device rather than just inventing the procedure.

“Surgeons come up with new procedures all the time. If you just have a procedure without a device, you don’t have a company,” he said.

Berry Negrin, partner and co-founder of the Patent Group of Pryor Cashman, LLP, who attended the lecture and does patent work for NovaTract, agreed, said that while one is allowed to patent a method, patenting a device is more advantageous. “It’s much easier to prove infringement of a device than a method,” Negrin said in an email. “[A method is] more ephemeral than a device.”

Negrin added that because the device the instrument is similar to existing ones, it falls under the Section 510k of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. That means the device has to go through less research and documentation in order to be used.

Roberts said though he had been using the technique already, he first considered patenting the device when someone came into his office while he was operating and suggested he patent the technique that led him to invent the device. He added, the man he was operating on at the time worked at the Office of Cooperative Research and helped Roberts get started.

During the lecture, Tandler described the process of getting the device FDA approved, clinically tested, and on the market by early next year. According to Tandler, the device should cost $200-$250, a price she said is comparable to other devices on the market. She said that cost neutrality was important for NovaTract, to encourage hospitals to make a switch in both the device and the procedure. Laparoscopic devices constitute a $3 billion market, which is expected to grow in the upcoming decade.

“Two-thirds of venture capitalists in Connecticut go to life sciences,” said Paul Pescatello, the president and CEO of Connecticut United for Research Excellence, a hybrid organization focusing on education and business of the life sciences in Connecticut.

The seminar was part of Yale-CURE BioHaven Entrepreneurship Seminar Series, a partnership between Yale’s Office of Cooperative Research and the Connecticut United for Research Excellence.

Comments

  • Andreology

    Thank you, Dr. Roberts!