Maker of Flexitouch expanding

  • Article by: JAMES WALSH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 27, 2012 - 4:59 PM

Tactile Systems, which makes a device to manage lymphedema, will address other conditions and launch international sales.

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Jerry Mattys is the CEO of Tactile Systems Technology, a Minneapolis company that created a device that helps people with lymphedema treat themselves at home. The company of 120 employees is doing well and just secured $10.4 million in capital to expand its offerings for patients suffering from other vascular diseases. Here Mattys is photographed in his office, Tuesday, October 16, 2012. (ELIZABETH FLORES/STAR TRIBUNE) ELIZABETH FLORES � eflores@startribune.com

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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At a time when smaller, private med tech firms are struggling to get products approved, or to win insurance reimbursement -- or to turn a profit -- Jerry Mattys of Tactile Systems Technology wants folks to know that his northeast Minneapolis company is doing just fine.

In fact, the maker of Flexitouch, a system that allows patients to treat debilitating lymphedema at home, recently secured $10.4 million in new financing to expand its business to address other chronic swelling conditions and launch international sales. And Affordable Care Act or no Affordable Care Act, Mattys said he expects the good news to continue.

"We are well-situated for the new health care law -- or not," he said from the beautifully renovated former ironworks that Tactile Systems occupies. "Keeping people out of the hospital, which is stressed under the new health care law, is a goal for us."

How it works

Flexitouch is essentially a system of large, air bladder-filled sleeves that fit over a patient's arms, legs and torso. An air compressor fills and empties the bladders to mimic a massage to help people suffering from lymphedema -- a painful swelling from lymphatic fluid that often follows cancer surgery. The permanent condition affects up to 1 million adults nationwide.

Before a lymphedema therapist invented the system in 1995, effective treatment options for many patients were limited to frequent hospital visits, Mattys said. Now, while patients still work with therapists and visit lymphedema clinics, the system allows people to lead much more active lives.

Suzanne is a Twin Cities magician who often travels to California's Magic Castle to perform. The 2010 Closeup Magician of the Year, who got lymphedema in early 2000 after cancer treatment, said the system allows her to work, to fly for hours on an airplane, to ride horses and go bowling with her son.

"This enables me to live a pretty normal life," said the performer, who asked that her last name not be used. "It allows me to be a normal person."

Dr. Nancy Hutchison is medical director of the Cancer Rehabilitation & Lymphedema Program at the Sister Kenny Rehabilitation & Virginia Piper Cancer Institutes of Abbott Northwestern Hospital. She has worked with Tactile Systems since 2002 and said she recognized "the benefit of this technology for patients with lymphedema as soon as I saw one of the earliest machines at a national lymphedema meeting in Chicago that year."

The treatment for lymphedema is time-consuming and difficult, she said. While Flexitouch does not eliminate the need for therapists, she said, it gives patients an "effective tool in their toolbox."

She praised Tactile Systems for becoming a part of the lymphedema treatment community and working closely with clinicians. Tactile Systems even trained its own people to become certified therapists.

"They went about this the right way," she said of Tactile Systems' development.

Still growing

Tactile Systems employs 120 people and handles everything from device development and clinical trials to insurance reimbursement and patient training. Revenues have grown from $6.1 million in 2007 to $26.5 million in 2011. The company serves more than 18,000 patients across the country. But, Mattys said, there is more to come.

The company has a goal to expand lymphedema revenues by at least 20 percent a year. In addition, the infusion of new capital from Radius Ventures enabled the purchase of new technology to treat venous insufficiency, which causes chronic swelling and sores from poor circulation. An estimated 30 million American adults suffer from it, Mattys said.

He said Tactile Systems intends to launch its new product next year, including sales in Europe and Asia.

"I think that's the missing link in home care right now," he said of the new product.

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