A January 9, 2015 story by Andrew Pollack in The New York Times covered many of the start-up companies, as well as pharmaceutical giants like PfizerRoche, and Novartis, that are pursuing drug studies aimed at finding new therapies for ear and balance ailments, including hearing loss, tinnitus, and vertigo. The new focus on ear and balance problems has not yet produced a drug that restores lost hearing or cures related ailments, but some companies have seen positive results in early clinical trials.


A gene therapy developed by GenVec was used in a trial at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

According to the NY Times article, about 48 million Americans have hearing loss in at least one ear, and that figure is expected to increase as baby boomers grow older. While hearing problems can currently be treated with hearing aids or implants, many people do not like using hearing aids, and implants require surgery. It is hoped that drugs could be developed as an alternative to one or both of these two treatment options.

The NY Times reported that a recent clinical trial of a gene therapy being developed by Novartis is aimed at restoring lost hearing. Another clinical trial at the University of Kansas Medical Center uses a gene therapy developed by Maryland-based biotech company GenVec. A start-up called Oricula Therapeutics is investigating potential drugs that could treat or prevent age-related hearing loss. Other companies are trying to prevent hearing loss that occurs as a side effect from ototoxic drugs, such as certain antibiotics or medications used in chemotherapy.

Drugs are also being studied as a possible preventive measure against noise-induced hearing loss. As mentioned in a November 12, 2014 article in The Hearing Review, Kathleen Campbell, PhD, of Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, is leading a study involving soldiers at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. With support from the US Department of Defense, Campbell is investigating whether the amino acid d-methionine might help preserve the hearing of soldiers who are at risk for noise-induced hearing loss during gun training.

Seattle-based Sound Pharmaceuticals reported that its drug, intended to reduce oxidative damage to the ear, helped prevent temporary noise-induced hearing loss in some study patients. According to Switzerland-based Auris Medical, its experimental drug AM-111 improved hearing and speech discrimination in some study patients who were treated within 48 hours of suffering a hearing loss. Auris Medical is also in late-stage trials of AM-101, which it hopes will diminish the symptoms of tinnitus. Autifony Therapeutics is conducting early trials of a pill intended to helping the brain better interpret signals from the auditory nerve.

Trials of new therapeutic approaches for balance disorders are reportedly underway as well. San Diego-based Otonomy, founded in 2008 by Jay Lichter after he suffered vertigo related to Ménière’s Disease, has developed a way to deliver steroids into the ear as a potential treatment. The company has started the final stage of trials for its Ménière’s treatment product.

Source: The New York Times

Photo credit: GenVec