Most of us know people who are hard of hearing, but we don’t fully appreciate the difficulties that lead to hearing loss. Hearing loss can lead to isolation, frustration, and debilitation from tinnitus. It is also closely related to dementia.
Biotech company Frequency Therapeutics is looking to reverse hearing loss not with hearing aids or implants, but with a new type of rehabilitative therapy. The company uses small molecules to program progenitor cells, the progenitor cells of the inner ear’s stem cells, to create the tiny hair cells that allow us to hear.
Hair cells die when exposed to drugs such as loud noises, chemotherapy, or antibiotics. Frequency’s candidate is designed to be injected into the ear to regenerate these cells within the cochlea. In clinical trials, the company has already improved people’s hearing and language comprehension and speech recognition with speech perception tests.
“Speech sensitivity is the No. 1 hearing improvement goal and the No. 1 hearing need from our patients,” said Chris Lawes, PhD ’07, Frequency’s co-founder and chief scientific officer.
In Frequency’s first clinical study, the company found statistically significant improvements in speech perception in some participants after a single injection, with some responses lasting nearly two years.
The company has dosed more than 200 patients to date, and three separate clinical studies have shown clinically significant improvements in speech perception. Another study failed to improve hearing compared to a placebo group, but the company attributed this to a flaw in the trial design.
Frequency is now recruiting 124 people for the trial, with preliminary results due early next year.
The company’s founders, Loose, MIT Institute Professor Robert Langer, CEO David Luchino MBA ’06, Senior Vice President Will McLean PhD ’14, and Harvard MIT Health Sciences and Technology Fellow Jeff Karp have already achieved this feat. satisfied. to help people improve their hearing through experiments. They are also believed to be making an important contribution to a problem that affects more than 40 million people in the United States and hundreds of millions around the world.
“Hearing is a very important sense; It connects people to society and builds a sense of identity,” said Karp, professor of anesthesia at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “I think the opportunity to restore hearing will have a huge impact on society.”
From the lab to the patient
In 2005, Luchino was an MBA student at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, and Laws completed his PhD in chemical engineering at MIT. Langer introduced two aspiring entrepreneurs who won MIT’s $100,000 entrepreneurship competition and began working on what would become Semprus BioSciences, a medical device company that later sold for $80 million.
“MIT has a great environment of people interested in new businesses from different backgrounds, so we can quickly assemble a team of people with different skills,” Lawes said.
Eight years after meeting Luchino and Loos, Langer began working with Karp to study the human gut lining, which regenerates itself almost daily.
The researchers, led by Xiaolei Yin, an MIT postdoctoral fellow who is now a scientific advisor to Frequency, discovered that the same molecules that control intestinal stem cells are also called stem cells’ close progenitors. Like stem cells, progenitor cells can develop into more specialized cells in the body.