Concerts, power tools, screeching subway trains—they are among the many loud noises that can cause hearing loss by killing off the hair cells in our inner ear that pick up sounds.
A new Cambridge, MA-based biotech, founded by famed MIT researcher Bob Langer and Harvard Medical School’s Jeff Karp, believes it has drugs that can stimulate dormant cells in the inner ear, which could in turn help regenerate hair cells that would improve hearing in a person who’s lost it. Frequency Therapeutics, a stealthy company founded in 2015 and backed by angel investors and “super angels,” announced itself and its lead product to the public today.
Frequency has small-molecule therapies that it says can activate what are called progenitor cells, a type of cell that can differentiate like a stem cell but only into a specific “target” cell type, according to the company. The company says small-molecule drugs can cause those progenitor cells in the inner ear to multiply and create new hair cells, potentially restoring natural hearing.
The startup is one of several biotechs aiming at the largely untapped market of developing drugs that combat hearing loss, a problem that Frequency says affects some 30 million men and women in the U.S. Notably, another Boston biotech named Decibel launched in October 2015 with a $52 million Series A funding round from Third Rock Ventures and SR One, the VC arm of GlaxoSmithKline, to develop drugs that combat some of the biological reasons for hearing issues. (Hearing loss, of course, has many potential causes.)
Frequency seems to be taking a more understated approach, financially at least. Marc Cohen, the co-founder of Cobro Ventures and multiple biotech startups, including C4 Therapeutics, is the new chairman of Frequency and is providing initial funding for the company along with a group of angels and super angels, according to a spokeswoman, who declined to specify the funding amount. Langer and Frequency CEO David Lucchino are among the other members of the board.
The company’s scientific discoveries were in part based on research into the ability some amphibians and birds have to regrow hair cells that have been damaged, according to Frequency. The company’s small-molecule drugs, which would be delivered as a slow-release gel via injection to the inner ear, target a type of progenitor cell called Lgr5+.
Frequency hopes to enter human clinical trials in the next 18 months in patients with hearing loss, according to the spokeswoman.