The next X-ray? Seattle startup Proprio raises $23M to build high-tech surgical navigation system



Screenshot of a 3D interactive scene generated by the Proprio system, including live capture of the surgical field fused with preoperative imaging and planning data. (Proprio Image)

Seattle startup Proprio has raised more cash to help build out its surgical technology that some investors believe will be just as transformative as the X-ray.

The 4-year-old company announced a $23 million Series A investment round led by DCVC, with participation from Cota Capital, BOLD Capital Partners, and Alan Frazier, founder of Frazier Healthcare Partners.

Proprio has a bold vision to change the way surgeons work with help of advanced technologies such as computer vision, robotics, artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, and medical imaging.

The University of Washington spinout is developing a complete hardware-software solution with overhead cameras, head-mounted displays, and more. The system produces a live, real-time fused image allowing surgeons to essentially look inside a body without having to glance at another screen.

“It’s a hard thing to wrap your head around,” Proprio CEO Gabriel Jones told GeekWire. “But it’s like X-ray vision without the X-ray, in 3D.”

The idea is to rely less on traditional tools such as microscopes, loupes, monitors, and radiological imagery. Proprio aims to help lower surgical error rates, simplify workflow, and reduce exposure to radiation.

“We want to enable an advancement in surgical practice,” Jones said.

Proprio’s system is built to work in concert with earlier generations of imaging technologies.

“For example, there’s still a need for preoperative MRIs and CAT scans, but we want to incorporate the preoperative imagery with a real-time view of the surgical field, giving surgeons a more efficient, safer, and more accurate way of navigating the case,” Jones said.

The Proprio team. (Proprio Photo)

The funding will help bring Proprio’s product to market and gain FDA approval. The company has already been working with top surgeons and hospitals to refine the technology. Its partners include companies such as Intel and HTC, as well as Seattle Children’s and University of Washington Medicine.

Before co-founding Proprio, Jones evaluated technology for Bill Gates’ private office. That work led him to Samuel Browd, a pediatric neurosurgeon in Seattle who helped launch high-tech football helmet maker Vicis.

Proprio CEO Gabriel Jones. (Proprio Photo)

Jones and Browd joined Professor Joshua Smith, who leads the Sensor Systems research group at the University of Washington. Smith, now a technical advisor for the company, brought on computer vision PhD James Youngquist to head Proprio’s engineering efforts. Tech executive and investor Ken Denman, whose facial analysis company Emotient was acquired by Apple, joined the board as chairman.

Investors are bullish about the potential.

“Proprio is creating the most transformative technology in surgery since the X-ray,” Armen Vidian, partner at DCVC and a Proprio board member, said in a statement. “DCVC has invested in Gabe and his tremendous team, which includes proven leaders in artificial intelligence, computer vision, medical devices and clinical medicine, because we believe they are uniquely qualified to execute on this ambitious goal.”

In a blog post, Vidian added that Proprio’s tech is “a radical shift in how we perform surgery that enhances human capability and performance.”

“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,” Vidian wrote.

Jones said the COVID-19 crisis is increasing the urgency for hospitals to be more efficient without sacrificing quality. There is also a predicted surgeon shortage; the U.S. will lack as many as 23,000 surgeons by 2032, according to a 2019 report prepared for the AAMC.

“Surgeries are a key revenue driver for hospitals and we are seeing heightened interest in systems like ours to help them optimize their resources while improving the standard of care,” he said.

Part of the company’s mission is to build out a robust anatomy dataset that could be accessed by medical professionals around the world, Jones noted.

The name Proprio is a play on “proprioception” and a nod to the idea that surgical technology should try to work alongside a surgeon’s own bodily awareness. In that vein, Proprio is similar to Intuitive Surgical, the maker of da Vinci surgical robots.

Other Proprio technical advisors include Microsoft Healthcare GM Desney Tan and computer vision pioneer Dr. Takeo Kanade. Dr. Alan Levy, former CEO and chairman of Chrono Therapeutics, sits on the board.

The 25-person startup recently added three execs: VP of Product Amish Patel, VP of Engineering Shannon Eubanks, and VP of Business Development Tony Titus.

Total funding to date is just under $30 million. The company raised a $7 million round in January 2019.






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