New sleep apnea treatment devices emerge

Sleep apnea treatment device options are becoming more prolific, The Wall Street Journal reports, with a number of med tech companies actively focused on new and improved technology in the space that goes well beyond the commonly used--and clunky--CPAP machines.

Case in point: ApniCure in Redwood City, CA, won FDA approval in March 2012 for its Winx sleep-therapy system. As the story notes, the product uses a flexible mouthpiece attached to tubing and a console that sits by the bed. It opens the airway with negative pressure that pulls the soft palate and tongue forward. And a new version of the device is rolling out in 2014 designed to reach a broader group of apnea patients, founder, chairman and chief technology officer Matt Vaska told the WSJ. A drawback: Insurance coverage for the $1,000 device is very limited, according to the article.

There's also Inspire Medical Systems. The Maple Grove, MN, company spun out of Medtronic ($MDT) in 2007 is testing a nerve-stimulation implant to address apnea, which produces mild stimulation to the upper airway while a patient sleeps. Although it is approved in Europe and at some medical centers overseas, clinical trials in the U.S. continue. And as the WSJ notes, ImThera Medical in San Diego is testing a similar device.

Lower-tech options are also on the table.

As the article explains, Theravent in San Jose, CA, offers Provent, a device that won FDA approval in 2008. Patients with a prescription can try the device, which sticks on the nostrils and sounds relatively simple. It generates pressure to open the airways through small valves that open when a patient inhales and close when exhaling. Patients grab a new device each night before they go to sleep. At about $65 for a month's supply, the cost isn't outrageous. But the story explains that the product doesn't have reliable insurance coverage.

Other companies are also focused on improving sleep apnea device options. Those operations, plus the ones highlighted by the WSJ, aim to give sleep apnea patients more options beyond CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure machines. Despite improvements in the technology, it remains, physically, kind of clunky. Patients use the device, which includes a face mask attached to a hose and a pump that sits next to the bed, while they sleep. The Wall Street Journal reminds us that patients resist using these machines because of discomfort and noise. That remains a solid motivator for device companies moving steadily to bring better options to the marketplace.

- read the full WSJ article (sub. req)