An Oklahoma biotechnology company has received a $2.4 million grant from the Department of Defense to test an experimental drug to prevent hearing loss.
The company, Otologic Pharmaceutics, was formed by OMRF scientist Robert Floyd, Ph.D., and Hough Ear Institute CEO Richard Kopke, M.D. The pair started the company after discovering that a combination of two chemical compounds, 4-OHPBN nitrone and N-acetyl-cysteine, could stop damage to the inner ear caused by acute acoustic trauma.
“I was investigating one compound, and Dr. Kopke had been doing work with the other compound,” said Floyd, who holds the Merrick Foundation Chair in Aging Research at OMRF. “We both saw some success working the compounds individually, but when we combined them, we found that the combination proved many times more effective at preventing hearing loss.”
Kopke and Floyd’s experiments showed the combination to be effective at reducing damage caused by acute acoustic trauma—when intense noise causes the hair cells in the inner ear to die. By administering the compounds soon after exposure to intense noise, the researchers have found that they can reduce hearing loss by up to 80 percent.
According to Otologic CEO David Karlman, the new grant will be used to move the treatment to human clinical trials, a necessary step for obtaining Food and Drug Administration approval.
“This award will serve to accelerate the development of our promising orally available therapeutic, HPN-1010,” Karlman said. “Given the increased scrutiny and high bar the reviewers set for all submissions, we also believe this award helps to validate the experience, foresight and scientific vision of Drs. Kopke and Floyd along with our clinical development team.”
Initial trials will test the safety of the experimental treatment when administered to healthy individuals. If those trials prove successful, the company plans to expand testing to study the drug’s effectiveness at preventing hearing loss in people.
The new treatment could answer a critical unmet medical need, said Kopke. “We live in a very loud world. Whether it’s soldiers in a warzone or children playing video games with the volume up too high, sound can damage us in very real, very limiting ways,” he said. “Hearing loss alone costs the U.S. Department of Defense about $1 billion a year.”
In the longer term, Floyd and Kopke also hope to look at whether the compounds can be effective at preventing hearing loss that occurs as people grow older. “If we’re right, this therapy could help not just soldiers dealing with combat-related hearing loss, but also civilians experiencing age-related hearing loss,” Floyd said.