The Democratisation of Surgical Robotics; ‘XACT’​-ly what Chen Levin wants

This month, I had the pleasure of interviewing the CEO of XACT Robotics, Chen Levin as part of our “Leaders in MedTech” series. Chen is a seasoned leader in the healthcare space with vast experience in management and operational positions. Throughout her career, Chen has contributed to and played an instrumental part in Israel’s Biomed industry’s continuous growth.

Having begun her career in policy research, helping to shape important Government Biomed industry support schemes, Chen then served as the Executive Director of BioJerusalem, an initiative of the Prime Minister’s Office of the Government of Israel, to foster the Biomed industry in Jerusalem, where she established numerous ventures and collaborations. Following this, Chen then served as the CEO of BioMagnesium Systems Ltd., an early-stage medical device company, before playing a key role in the establishment of BioLineRx, Israel’s first Biomed Incubator (now a TASE publicly-traded company).

It is without a doubt that autonomous medical robots represent the next revolution in medicine, and XACT Robotics is leading a new wave of medical innovation in this field. XACT Robotics is focused on advancing the field of interventional radiology by developing the world’s first robotic solutions with non-linear steering capabilities. The XACT ACE™ Robotic System is currently the only system to combine both planning and monitoring capabilities (I.e., navigation) with robotic insertion and non-linear steering capabilities. This is through guiding instruments into the human body during image-guided percutaneous procedures including ablations, site-specific drug delivery, pain management, biopsies, and other local treatments.

This technology can significantly improve patients’ lives, and we were lucky enough to hear the perspectives from the CEO of XACT Robotics.

Firstly, I asked Chen to tell us a bit about her “backstory” and what led her to work in the surgical robotics sector?

So, I grew up in Canada, but I have been living in Israel since 1996. I moved here to study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Initially, around 1998, my role in the JIIS, a policy research institute, was focused on developing policies to foster the industry, and I was privileged enough to get exposed to the BioTech and MedTech sectors very early on. Back then, no one was calling it MedTech, the buzzword was “BioTech”, and for about five years I took a deep dive into this sector from the policy side. I worked with industry leaders to define what policy initiatives could be taken by local as well as national policymakers to facilitate and develop this industry.

This led to many collaborations with different cities and different groups that were working on similar projects in Europe and the U.S, and I was exposed to different ways of developing companies. After about 5 years, while I was completing my MBA in finance, I decided to make the move to industry and moved to a Drug Development company called BioLineRX, which is publicly traded. I was one of the first employees in that company to work with the founders to develop the business model. I already really knew the industry inside out, I knew many of the industry leaders locally in Israel, and being able to make that shift was exciting for me.

XACT Robotics is the second company that I’m working at as a CEO. My background and experience have placed me in a unique position because I have both the bird’s eye view and the detailed information. I’m very excited about the potential of how technology can eventually impact patients’ lives. It really changes the way medicine is being practiced and fuels my passion and excitement as I get up every morning and go into the office.

What are some of the key leadership skills you’ve learned in your previous and current roles?

First and foremost, I think the understanding that it’s not the title that makes the difference. I’m called a CEO but I’m part of a team and I think the ability to recognise the right people for the right roles within the company and to empower them is vital. In other words, I don’t manage people, but I lead people and I would rather see people who work with me take responsibility and ownership of their respective fields, expertise, and their domains, pushing them constantly to excel and improve, rather than get into the day-to-day details myself. My tendency has always been to work in a group. I think this is also part of the Israeli mentality and it has given me a lot of perspective into the intercultural aspect. In that respect, a start-up is really about the right group of people – it’s important to get the right people around an idea and get them excited and working together collaborating.

Also Listening – over the years I’ve learned to listen more. This leadership trait is something you learn throughout the years, and it comes with experience. I learn a lot every day from everyone around me. I never pass up an opportunity to learn, and I truly believe there’s no such thing as a stupid question. At XACT this is something that is never taken for granted. This is my leadership style: open, collaborative, and a group effort which in my experience will always allow a team to succeed.

So, what do you think we can do to encourage the younger generation to consider a career path in Med-Tech & Surgical Robotics?

I think exposure is very important. Even this kind of article that you’re publishing is great because it portrays the right PR for the industry. Med-Tech is such a diverse industry, there are so many different functions and roles – not only scientific. You could come from the scientific side or the engineering side, but you can also come from the quality side or even HR because HR in our industry plays a different role than the cyber industry. For all the people who work and contribute to this industry, I think working in a role that eventually impacts patients’ lives is huge.

We’re not getting up in the morning just to make money for our investors, shareholders, and bank accounts. My motivation is more than earning a salary. My motivation is that I get to make a difference in people’s lives and people who have cancer and other diseases who will eventually be treated better because of what XACT is doing day in and day out. That is something that is not really spoken about enough to people who are making career choices.

And Israel is undoubtedly a hub for Med-Tech and Biotech innovation, do you foresee this high level of investment and R&D continuing?

Absolutely. No doubt I think that there is so much innovation in Israel. The laboratory where our technology originates in the Technion Israel Institute of Technology is led by Professor Moshe Shoham. This is an extremely prolific laboratory, with many start-ups originating there. Other than XACT Robotics there’s been MicroBot Medical, Mazor, and additional companies that have come out of this one lab. And that’s just one example in Israel. I think this trend will continue undoubtedly. The state invests a lot of money in innovation and there’s a growing amount of private and institutional investment in this field.

What I would like to see change, and I hope XACT Robotics will be one of the first important companies to do this, is to be involved in more than just R&D. I would like to see commercial-stage, mature companies developing in Israel as opposed to just the R&D happening locally.

What’s been the toughest professional challenge you have faced and how did you manage through it?

Well, stating the obvious I have two children and they’re still young. My daughter is 12 and my son is 9, so when I was starting XACT about 8 years ago, my son was about a year old, and it has been a tremendous challenge balancing family and work life. We work long hours; I work with the U.S., so my workdays usually end later because of the different time zones so that has been a challenge. I think this is something that many parents can resonate with and on this front, women are a still bit more inclined to this dilemma of a work/life balance.

I think the other challenge is really taking a company from an early stage to a growth stage. There have been various points along the way that have been challenging, such as going from less than 10 to almost 80 employees. Having a global presence with two offices, one in Israel and one in the U.S. has presented challenges because it is inevitable that the organisational structure and culture needs to change and bridge the gap between the U.S. and Israeli offices to ensure that we keep developing XACT as one company is important. Keeping the innovative, fast-paced culture while maturing and becoming a more developed company with organised policies as opposed to a fast-paced start-up is just a matter of problem-solving.

These are challenges that I think every start-up goes through as they mature. I have been fortunate enough to be with the company for the entire process and this has been extremely challenging, but also rewarding, interesting, and exciting.

And finally, can you name one or more people who have been your main source of inspiration in your career?

One person who is not with us anymore was a very close friend of mine who passed away from breast cancer back in 2008. She has motivated me to keep going and dealing with interventional oncology has really stemmed from the personal experience of losing someone to cancer. I think everyone we encounter knows someone either first or second hand who is either dealing or has dealt with cancer. This has been one of my motivations to keep going no matter how hard it is. And providing solutions and better treatment to oncology patients is something that is really close to home for me.

Secondly, the chairman of XACT Robotics Harel Gadot is a huge inspiration to me. When we met around 13 years ago, he had just left Johnson&Johnson (J&J) to start MedX which is the holding company that he established XACT and other companies through. What I really find inspiring about Harel is his vision and ability to take things and make them become reality. So, thirteen years ago he was an executive, he had an impressive career with J&J, but having left them and having this vision for a Med-Tech hub and bringing that to a reality over the years has been very inspiring to witness.

It was a real pleasure connecting with Chen and gaining an insight into her career history, motivations, and what she foresees for the Israeli Med-Tech market. As a thought-provoking and inclusive leader, I appreciate Chen taking the time to share her expertise with us, and I look forward to witnessing her progression alongside XACT Robotics, and wherever the future may take her. Furthering from this, with the wider spread adoption of the XACT ACE™ Robot already occurring, it is without a doubt that we will witness the democratization of surgical robotics solutions, with cutting-edge treatment available to patients worldwide.