Decibel Therapeutics received $52 million in Series A financing from Third Rock Ventures and Glaxo, to develop and discover new medicines to protect, repair and restore hearing.
Bioscience Technology chatted with scientific co-founder M. Charles Liberman, Ph.D. of Harvard Medical School, and Director of the Eaton-Peabody Laboratories at the Mass Eye and Ear Infirmary, about exciting new developments that will help push hearing restoration therapies from the bench to the clinic.
Liberman, an auditory neuroscientist, has been studying hearing and deafness for almost 40 years.
He’s interested in both how the hearing system normally works, and what goes wrong in various kinds of hearing loss, such as sensorineural – which is the most common form of adult hearing loss.
“What’s exciting is that in the past 5-10 years there has been a lot of progress in understanding, at the cell and molecular level, what’s going on in a variety of kinds of sensorineural hearing loss, and a lot of exciting ideas out there about the path ways involved and the ways we can treat it,” Liberman told Bioscience Technology.
For years scientists used to think that tiny hair cells in the inner ear were the first thing to degenerate when hearing loss occurred, but in the last five years, Liberman said he has shown that, “Actually the most vulnerable element to disappear, even before the hair cells do are these tiny little connections – the synaptic connections between the hair cells and the nerve fibers that takes the information to the brain.” He noted that both the synaptic connections and the hairs are still important targets for drug therapies, and both have been regenerated, along with some functional recovery, in mouse-model proof-of-concept experiments.
In experiments at Liberman’s lab, and the lab of Albert Edge, scientific co-founder of Decibel Therapeutics, mice were over-exposed to noise -either at a moderate level, which only destroys the synaptic connections mentioned earlier, or at a higher level, which destroys hair cells – and given two different types of drugs that target two different types of pathways.