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IW 50 Best: Intuitive Surgical Minimizes Pain, Maximizes Profits

Growing adoption of Intuitive Surgical's da Vinci system is keeping the companys vital signs healthy.

The launch of the third-generation da Vinci robot-assisted surgical system in April 2009 has helped Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Intuitive Surgical Inc. grow its revenue and earnings in an inhospitable economy.

In fourth-quarter 2009, sales of the third-generation system, the da Vinci si, represented 79% of Intuitives system revenues, according to the company. Sales of the da Vinci si helped push the company's full-year revenue to $1.05 billion in 2009, up from $874.9 million in 2008.

In third-quarter 2010, Intuitive's overall revenue increased 26% year-over-year to $344 million, while net income increased 43% to $87 million. Through the first three quarters of 2010, Intuitive already had reached $1.02 billion in sales.

The da Vinci system acts as an interface between the surgeon's hands and the tips of micro-instruments, replicating the surgeons movements in real time. Intuitive claims that the system boosts the surgeons visual acuity, precision and dexterity, making it possible for complex procedures such as hysterectomies, cardiac revascularizations and gastric bypass surgeries to be performed through a minimally invasive approach.

Since launching the da Vinci system in 1999, the company has sold 1,661 systems worldwide.

In Intuitive's third-quarter earnings conference call earlier this month, CEO and President Gary Guthart said the companys third-quarter growth was fueled by growing use of the da Vinci system in gynecological procedures. Aleks Cukic, vice president, strategy, noted that da Vinci hysterectomy procedures for benign conditions have "become a significant driver of our overall business." The FDA approved the da Vinci system for hysterectomy procedures in 2005.

The company was particularly encouraged by the findings of a study appearing in the September edition of the Journal of Robotic Surgery, titled "Comparison of Minimally Invasive Surgical Approaches for Hysterectomy at a Community Hospital." The article's three co-authors concluded that the study results "lend support to the small but growing body of literature describing the benefits of minimally invasive robotic-assisted laparoscopic hysterectomy over conventional laparoscopic-assisted vaginal hysterectomy."

In third-quarter 2010, more than 250 da Vinci-related articles and abstracts appeared within peer-review journals, Cukic noted.

One survey conducted by the University of Alabama, Birmingham, and published in the September International Journal of Medical Robotics and Computer Assisted Surgery found that 95% of responding GYN oncology fellowship programs have robotic systems at their institutions.

During the third-quarter earnings call, Cukic asserted that the "introduction of da Vinci surgery into residency and fellowship training speaks well to our product adoption thus far."

"It has been our belief that in time the initial da Vinci procedure experience will find its way into the formal processes of academic medicine through residency and fellowship programs," Cukic said. "As several da Vinci procedures have gone mainstream, we have begun to see this transition take place."

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