FRI AM News: Milwaukee startup developing pill-based alternative to asthma treatments; WisBusiness: the Podcast with plant disease researcher Katie Gold

— A drug discovery startup called Pantherics Incorporated is developing a pill-based alternative to current asthma treatments based on research conducted at UW-Milwaukee. 

Doug Stafford, the company’s president and CEO, says his business is the first to develop drugs that affect a well-known target outside of the brain and central nervous system. He presented for WARF Innovation Day, held this week in Madison. 

“We’ve shown extensively in animal models… that our drug can do two things we want it to: reduce inflammation and reduce bronchospasms,” Stafford said. “The drug opens the airway that’s closed due to inflammation-induced muscle constriction.” 

Pantherics is broadly developing treatments for inflammatory diseases of smooth muscle, starting with asthma. This disease affects around 14 percent of the world’s population, but Stafford explains many other conditions have a similar mechanism. That includes diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and bladder, the heart and other parts of the body. 

“In all of these conditions, underlying inflammation leads to unwanted contraction of muscle,” he said. 

Patients with inflammatory bowel disease or irritable bowel syndrome experience unwanted muscle contractions that cause cramps and diarrhea. And for those with overactive bladders, inflammation causes the smooth muscles of the bladder to contract. 

Stafford said treatments for diseases like these are somewhat limited, claiming the combination of inflammatory drugs and muscle relaxants are “not very effective” for many conditions. In asthma, the disease becomes resistant to the drugs, and other adverse effects are associated with steroid-based treatments. 

By using a “novel mechanism of drug action,” Stafford says a single pill-based treatment can reduce underlying inflammation and relax smooth muscle contractions.

See more: 

— This week’s episode of “WisBusiness: the Podcast” is with Katie Gold, a researcher and graduate of UW-Madison who helped develop a method for earlier detection of plant disease. 

“Disease today is one of the biggest problems in agricultural production; billions of dollars are lost every single year due to disease,” she said. “We estimate about 30 percent yield loss globally.” 

She and her colleagues combined advanced field, aerial and satellite-based methods of disease detection to identify infections before visual symptoms manifested. They started with late blight in potatoes, which famously led to the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s. And she said late blight represents one of the biggest problems for Wisconsin’s potato industry. 

Gold says the disease continues to impact human populations around the world, and the new method could offer a way to get ahead of disastrous outbreaks. 

She was one of the featured researchers who presented this week as part of WARF Innovation Day. In the podcast, Gold discusses how the new detection method could be broadly applied to other plant diseases, and highlights next steps for the development of the technology. 

Listen to the podcast here: 

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— Gov. Tony Evers says he has “comfort” with Randy Romanski serving as interim DATCP secretary and pledged to “take the time we need to find the best person possible” to replace Brad Pfaff after his nomination was rejected by the GOP-controlled state Senate.

Evers told reporters after announcing Romanski’s elevation that Pfaff will not be a part of that process. Pfaff also won’t transition into the deputy role or stay with DATCP, Evers said. In rejecting Pfaff’s nomination, some Republicans suggested Evers would move Romanski up from deputy secretary to lead the agency and slide Pfaff in to the No. 2 position.

Romanski previously served as the agency’s deputy secretary and then secretary under then-Gov. Jim Doyle. He then worked for the Department of Transportation in the Division of State Patrol before Evers tapped him to serve as the agency’s deputy secretary under Pfaff.

Evers praised the new interim secretary as someone who “knows the agency and knows the issues.”

The guv’s office said Romanski won’t be subject to Senate confirmation in the interim role.

But the guv knocked Senate Republicans, saying there was “no reason for them not to” approve his original nominee.

“They took the immoral approach and decided that politics are going to trump competence and passion,” he said.

— Marquette University’s newly opened Next Step Clinic will provide mental health services for underserved communities in the Milwaukee area, with a focus on children and their families. 

A release shows the clinic is rolling out services for family support and developmental assessment, while trauma-focused therapies will be offered starting next year. It’s meant to deal with mental health disorders and trauma that arise from violence, abuse, addiction and other factors. 

The clinic’s formation was spearheaded by Dr. Amy Van Hecke, an associate professor of psychology with the university, alongside community partner Leah Jepson, who represents the Wisconsin chapter of Mental Health America. The clinic will be operated as a satellite entity of this organization. 

They pursued creating the new clinic after Marquette University President Mike Lovell announced the launch of the President’s Challenge, which pledged a $250,000, two-year grant to one initiative aimed at improving some measure of inequality within Milwaukee. The Next Step Clinic was declared the winner of the challenge in January. 

“The clinic sends a message to Marquette’s surrounding communities that we are here to listen, understand and take action on these areas for improvement, and we are here to partner with you on your journey towards resilience,” Van Hecke said in a release. 

See more in a release: 

— Organizations representing farmers and environmentalists have given the 2019 Wisconsin Leopold Conservation Award to Lake Family Farms in Dunn County, recognizing efforts to improve sustainability. 

Jeff Lake took over the 1,500-acre farm in 1999 when his father retired from the dairy business. Now, the next generation of Lakes have a small herd of beef cattle, and also grow corn, soybeans and alfalfa. 

Lake relies on technology to conduct “variable-rate” planting and spraying, resulting in lower costs for both seed and fertilizer. Unprofitable parts of the farm have been repurposed into habitat for insect pollinators as well as deer, pheasants and turkeys.  

He planted a variety of cover crops on sandy soils, which are subject to surface runoff, to protect from weather erosion. And those cover crops help capture harmful nitrates before they reach groundwater. Lake also samples the soil to avoid over-fertilization. 

Lake’s farm has been the subject of multiple research studies, including a UW-River Falls effort study of nitrogen efficiency of corn, and a UW Discovery Farms study on phosphate levels in surface water. 

Each year, the Wisconsin Leopold Conservation Award and $10,000 prize are given out by the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, the Sand County Foundation and the Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association. The awards ceremony will be held Dec. 8 in Wisconsin Dells. 

See more on the award: 


# Wisconsin’s only active female-led venture fund raises $3.5 million

# Titletown in Milwaukee? Village eyes entertainment district tied to Miller Park on Komatsu site

# Clean energy investments drive increased profits for Wisconsin utilities; Alliant to spend $6.8B by 2023

# New study shows Wisconsin’s rural students still face inequity



– Chip Flory, Willie Vogt to open 2020 Corn/Soy Expo

– Seebecker joins WHA as sales & membership director


– Land sale approved for $30 million St. Augustine Prep expansion plan

– After fits and false starts, Milwaukee officials mark city’s first deconstruction job

– On the level: UW center director finds construction could be doing more for state’s economy


– Wisconsin among 10 slowest growing states in second quarter


– Report: More than 660K Wisconsinites have some college credit but no degree


– Self-Help Credit Union to open branch on Milwaukee’s south side


– Baldwin pushing for more funding for farm mental health resources

– Promega cancer treatment screening test expected to expand company


– Johnson Controls CFO Brian Stief to retire in December 2020

– Wisconsin institutions partnering with manufacturers on workforce


– Evers promotes deputy after Senate fires agriculture leader

– Wisconsin Assembly fails attempt to override Gov. Tony Evers’ vetoes


– The Avenue developers acquire Majestic Loft Apartments

– Empty school near Northridge Mall to be rehabbed into 100 affordable apartments


– We Energies seeking permission to build $370M gas plants


– UW welcomes new robot overlords, err, delivery service to campus


– $370 million We Energies project would build natural gas facilities near Ixonia, Whitewater


<i>See these and other press releases: </i>

Winnow Fund: Raises $3.5 million 

Badgerland Disposal: Signs two exclusive Southern Wisconsin municipal waste, recycling contracts 

ACS: Breaks ground on new, larger headquarters