Earlens closes $118M financing for laser-based hearing aid

The Earlens hearing aid catches sound with a microphone and converts it into light, eliminating the whistling that can occur with traditional hearing aids.

Earlens, which got its novel hearing aid through FDA de novo clearance in 2015, picked up $73 million in the final close of its series C round and an additional $45 million in debt from healthcare investment firm CRG.

The Menlo Park, California-based company will use the funds to boost commercialization and scale up manufacturing of its Earlens Light Driven Hearing Aid and support research and development, according to a statement.

Traditional hearing aids amplify sound using a small speaker, but the Earlens device converts sound into focused light. This gets rid of “the major source” of the whistling that can plague people who use normal hearing aids and help them understand conversation in noisy situations, Earlens said in the statement.

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The laser-based Earlens hearing aid is indicated for adults with mild to severe sensorineural hearing impairment and is placed in the ear by an ENT specialist. It comprises a lens that sits on a patient’s eardrum and an external processor worn on the outer ear that is connected to a light tip inserted into the ear. Microphones on the processor detect sound and communicate it to the light tip, which converts the sound into nonvisible light. This light then causes the lens to “gently activate” the patient’s natural hearing system.

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"The Earlens Light Driven Hearing Aid is the first product to deliver the sound quality experience hearing-impaired patients have been seeking," said Luke Duster, managing director at CRG, which participated in the series C. "We believe this technology can dramatically transform the way hearing impairment is addressed. This financing will help Earlens expand its commercial operations while enhancing its product pipeline."

Vertex Healthcare led the financing round, with participation from new investors Cochlear Ltd, RK Mellon, Sightline Partners and Windham Venture Partners, as well as existing backers New Enterprise Associates, Aisling Capital, Lightstone Ventures and Medtronic.

EarLens raised $51 million last summer, which it pegged to support the launch of its device, and closed a $40 million series B in 2014.

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