Investors in La Crosse have revived hopes for a medical device, invented in Madison, aimed at helping people who have swallowing disorders.
The Idea Fund of La Crosse has purchased the SwallowSTRONG device and technology from Swallow Solutions for $500,000.
The Idea Fund has created a new company, Swallow Therapeutics, to market the product. The company will be based in La Crosse.
“We’re excited to bring this cutting-edge health care company to La Crosse, where we believe it will have the right financial support, ecosystem and mentoring to reach its full potential,” Jonathon Horne, managing director of the Idea Fund, said.
SwallowSTRONG treats dysphagia, a condition that involves difficulty swallowing, and often affects older adults or those who have suffered strokes or head injuries.
The device is a custom-molded mouthpiece that is coupled with software and can be used from a patient’s home.
It drew more than $1 million in sales, but more widespread sales were hampered by the lack of Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, said Terry Kelly, president of Venture Management, one of the investors in Swallow Solutions.
“We know that it works. We have a book full of testimonials from patients,” Kelly said. “They’re very, very touching stories.” A study found the device reduced the number of pneumonia cases and hospital admissions.
Swallow Solutions was founded in 2009 based on research by JoAnne Robbins, then a professor at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. The company has been dormant for nearly a year.
Swallow Solutions also developed specialty, thickened beverages enhanced with proteins. They were not part of Idea Fund’s purchase.
Kelly said investors hope to find a partner to market the drinks.
The Idea Fund of La Crosse was established in 2016 to invest in early-stage Wisconsin companies. Swallow Therapeutics is the fund’s first investment.