Cochlear pens drug-device hearing treatment R&D pact

Preclinical tests will start next year, with a midphase clinical trial to follow by the middle of 2019.

Cochlear has struck a deal to trial Sensorion’s hearing loss drug candidate in combination with its implantable devices. The agreement positions Cochlear to expand beyond hearing-loss devices by licensing the therapeutic if it impresses in development.

Sydney, Australia-based Cochlear is making a $1.9 million investment in France’s Sensorion to get the alliance started. Further down the line, Cochlear could hand over more money if it takes up its right of first negotiation option on the global right to use Sensorion’s SENS-401 in combination with certain implantable devices.

Between now and the decision, Cochlear and Sensorion will investigate the effect of combining their technologies. Preclinical tests will start next year, with a midphase clinical trial to follow by the middle of 2019 if the combination clears that early hurdle.

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The hope is adding 5-HT3 receptor antagonist SENS-401 to the treatment mix will improve on the outcomes achieved by Cochlear’s implants alone. That hope is based on knowledge of the interventions’ respective mechanisms of action. SENS-401 is designed to maintain the function of hair cells in the inner ear, leading observers to speculate it will complement Cochlear’s implants. 

“SENS-401 has the potential to provide cochlear protection following the implantation procedure, to support long-term functional stability of the implant and to prevent continued degeneration in some patients,” Columbia University Medical Center’s Lawrence Lustig, M.D., said in a statement.

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The alliance moves Cochlear well outside of its traditional area of focus. Cochlear grew into a firm with a market cap north of $7 billion on the strength of its implants, which use electrical signals to stimulate nerves. That enables people to hear despite the mechanism by which the ear transforms sound waves into electrical signals being damaged.

Having established itself as the dominant force in the cochlear implant sector, the risk for Cochlear is that other interventions will improve on its offerings. The hookup with Sensorion is part of an attempt by Cochlear to ensure it is the source of improved interventions, even if that means moving outside of its historic technological specialty.