Frequency Therapeutics, started in 2015 with the lofty goal of reversing damage that causes hearing loss, has raised $32 million in its first major round of financing. The Waltham, Mass.-based firm is founded on technology emerging from the labs of MIT chemical engineer Robert Langer and Harvard Medical School biomedical engineer Jeffrey Karp.
Frequency hopes to reverse hearing loss by regenerating lost hair cells, the tuftlike projections that line the inner ear and are critical to translating a sound wave into an electrical signal that the brain can interpret. Most hearing loss results from damage to those 15,000 hair cells.
Whereas some companies are pursuing gene therapy to restore lost hair cells, Frequency thinks a combination of small molecules, injected directly into the middle ear, could restore hearing. In February, Langer and Karp showed that two small molecules—a GSK3β inhibitor and an HDAC inhibitor—prompted hair cell growth in mouse cochlea cells.
The National Institute on Deafness & Other Communication Disorders reports that nearly 38 million Americans suffer some form of hearing loss. Nonetheless, treatment options are currently limited to hearing aids or, for severe loss, cochlear implants.
Frequency isn’t the only company to see opportunity in preventing, treating, or reversing hearing loss. Recently formed competitors include Audion Therapeutics, Auris Medical, Autifony Therapeutics, Decibel Therapeutics, GenVec, and Otonomy.
Frequency says it will first tackle chronic noise-induced hearing loss. It aims to put its first drug into the clinic in the next 18 months.