Santiago — U.S.-based medtech startup Levita Magnetics is preparing to launch an artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics center in Chile’s capital Santiago, and its founder and CEO Alberto Rodríguez-Navarro tells Bloomberg Linea he expects the facility to open in March, as the company continues its search for engineers to complete the team.
“We want to train human capital. There is a lot of talent, but we have to focus on developing technology in the medical area. My dream is to set up the industry in Chile, and from there to the world,” he said in an interview.
Rodríguez-Navarro says the new center in Chile will be an offshoot of the company’s main office in Silicon Valley and will carry out clinical trials of medical innovations.
Founded in 2013, the company has developed a robot for carrying out abdominal magnetic surgery. Levita, as the robotic arm is called, uses an external magnet to move organs and tissues by means of a detachable clamp, allowing for the reduction of incisions, pain and scarring for patients.
The technology also optimizes the work of doctors, who can achieve better visualization as they work. Some 24 operations have already been performed in Chile with the robot.
“We use magnetic fields for surgery. It is like making use of electricity in cars, a new paradigm, and that is why we are optimistic about our future,” Rodríguez-Navarro says, and who headed the team of Chilean and U.S. scientists who created the robot in 2017.
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Installed in Silicon Valley, the startup is now in the process of raising $25 million (in a Series C round) in order to have access to resources to advance in the approval of Levita’s use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the company expects a response on its clearance by the end of 2022.
The plan is to make a market entry in the U.S. and prepare the company to go public on Nasdaq in order to scale internationally. Magnetic surgical procedures are a “very good solution, the market is huge, and the impact could be global”, according to the Chilean entrepreneur.
The company has so far already raised more than $20 million in previous financing rounds.
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From a Santiago Garage to Silicon Valley
Prior to founding Levita Magnetics, Rodríguez-Navarro had worked as a surgeon for a decade at the Padre Hurtado Hospital, one of the largest in Santiago, and was an academic at the University of Chile, focusing specifically on the area of post-surgery pain, as how to mitigate that had been a recurring question for years.
He began his research into pain mitigation, accompanied by his father, a mechanical engineer, using instruments and chicken body parts in the garage of their home in Santiago. After confirming the feasibility of their idea, they went deeper into the research that led to the development of the magnetic surgical system.
They obtained their first patent 10 years ago, and Rodríguez-Navarro decided to focus entirely on the project, developing his first device with magnets.
Medtech received FDA approval in 2016, creating a special category for magnetic surgical instruments thanks to the innovation developed by Rodríguez-Navarro and his team. Since then, more than 4,000 operations have been performed using this method in Chile and the United States, and, in the latter country, Levita Magnetics has received authorization to market its technology, although the Levita robot still needs to be approved by the FDA in order to be distributed.
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The company has not disclosed its valuation, but Levita Magnetics is part of a rising tide of startups in Chile, a country that how has three unicorns, and Rodríguez-Navarro appeared on Bloomberg Línea’s list of 100 Latin American entrepreneurs, published in December, alongside other Chilean startups such as Xepelin, Poliglota and Fintual.