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Tech and Biotech: Study shows SwallowSTRONG cuts hospitalization: Propeller Health to collaborate on new inhaler

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Swallow Solutions’ SwallowSTRONG device is aimed at helping people with swallowing disorders. The Madison company also is developing a line of thickened beverages.

Treating patients who have swallowing disorders with Swallow Solutions’ device slashed the number of hospital admissions by 61 percent over the next six months or more, says a study conducted by the Veterans Administration in Madison.

Results of the study, funded through the VA, were published in January’s Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Fifty-six patients went through an eight-week program to strengthen swallowing muscles in the tongue and throat. SwallowSTRONG consists of a mouthpiece that measures tongue pressure along with software that guides the patient through customized therapy and sends reports to the clinician.

As a result, many of the patients were able to eat less-restrictive diets and pneumonia cases decreased 67 percent, the report said. It said the drop in hospital admissions amounted to a $1.2 million reduction in hospital costs.

“This is the first study that’s ever been published looking at a device for treating swallowing disorders that actually shows improvement in the hospitalization rate,” said Eric Horler, Swallow Solutions president and CEO.

“We think that’s really exciting,” he said. The Madison company, founded in 2009, has four employees.

Propeller flies with Aptar

Propeller Health will collaborate with Aptar Pharma to create a new inhaler that incorporates Propeller’s sensors directly in Aptar’s device instead of adding them as an attachment.

It will be a next-generation inhaler and the first of its kind, said Propeller CEO David Van Sickle.

Aptar is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of inhaler components, and the agreement will apply to metered-dose inhalers for use by people with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or other lung ailments.

Propeller’s sensors track the use of inhalers so patients can better understand what triggers their need for the medicine and better control their symptoms.

The integrated inhaler, which will send the data to the computer cloud, is “a really important progression of the platform,” Van Sickle said. “We think that it’s really important to think about building the next generation of inhalers rather than focusing on ways to adapt the current inhalers.”

Van Sickle said, though, it may take a while before the new device is on the market as drug companies have to go through new clinical trials for any variation in their products.

Propeller, founded in Madison in 2010, has 45 employees, about two-thirds of them in Madison and the rest in the company’s San Francisco branch. Van Sickle said 35 health care organizations are using Propeller for their patients with asthma or COPD.

Water contest winner

A Madison company is one of three winners of a national competition for water-related entrepreneurs.

Nutrient Recovery and Upcycling has developed new technology to recover phosphates from wastewater and turn them into a mineral that’s “highly valuable” for use in fertilizer, said president Menachem Tabanpour.

It’s the only Wisconsin company chosen of the 29 entries in the Pow! emPowering Opportunities in Water competition, sponsored by Veolia, a water and wastewater services company based in Paris; The Water Council, Milwaukee; and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

Winners will participate in a 12-month mentorship program through The Water Council’s BREW accelerator and will get a total of $40,000 cash from the contest sponsors.

Tabanpour said it’s encouraging “to be recognized by one of the largest water companies in the world as having valuable technology ... It’s real exciting to see the possibilities.”

CenterX marks investment

Madison health IT company CenterX is reporting a commitment of $3.3 million in equity and/or debt.

Founded in 2009, the company had been formed to send prescriptions electronically to pharmacies. But lately, its focus has been on collecting information before a prescription is sent, said co-founder Joe Reinardy.

That involves checking to see if a specific drug has been authorized for the patient and to find out how much of the cost will be covered by insurance. Nationwide, that’s still “largely a paper, phone and fax process,” Reinardy said, but the federal government and some states are pressing for electronic handling.

Reinardy said the new funding will be tapped if CenterX needs to “grow very quickly” — if, for example, a major contract is signed at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society Conference next week in Las Vegas.

CenterX has 20 employees.

Contact Judy Newman at with tips and story suggestions.

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