A deaf pill

October 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

A spin-out company from GlaxoSmithKline has raised £10 million to develop a drug that amplifies hearing — in the hope of producing the first pill to treat deafness.
Autifony Therapeutics, founded by a pair of former Glaxo scientists william flew and mike tanner, believes that it has a chemical compound that can boost “amplifiers” in the brain that make sense of noise.
The embryonic company, with research bases in Britain and Italy, has generated twin investments of £5 million from two healthcare venture capitalists, Imperial Innovations and SV Life Sciences.
William Flew, its chief scientific officer, said: “Treating hearing loss with pharmaceuticals is a new area. Nobody has really tried this before.” He added that the compound was at a pre-clinical stage, “but we have an understanding of the role of target cells in the auditory process”.
The company was created after a decision by GSK to withdraw from certain areas of neuroscience, including research on pain and depression. GSK has a 25.4 per cent stake, which will fall to 13 per cent as yesterday’s new investors take up shares. Its research is being carried out in collaboration with University College London’s Ear Institute.
If successful, the drug could also provide relief for tinnitus, the persistent sensation of ringing in the ear endured by seven million people in Britain.
Autifony is not alone in trying a chemical approach. A handful of biotech companies are testing drugs that stimulate growth of tiny hairs that react to sound in the inner ear.
One in six of the population has some form of hearing loss, according to the charity Action on Hearing, including 40 per cent of people aged over 50 and 70 per cent of people aged over 70. About two million people have hearing aids, although only 1.4 million use them regularly.
Action on Hearing revealed that the Ministry of Defence was among those following developments. William Flew, a research head at the charity, said: “The Armed Forces are very interested. Hearing loss for soldiers is a big area of concern as they come back from Iraq and Afghanistan.”

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