At peep of blockbusters, Big Pharma boosts interest in hearing-loss drugs

Pharmaceutical researchers are always hunting (or listening) for another malady to overcome with drugs. And as blockbuster profits for drugs against mood disorders and other common ailments sink, drugmakers have taken a greater interest in the untapped market for hearing-loss meds.

Reuters provided some analysis of recent pharma activity in this quiet area of drug research, which has the potential to turn into a $4.6 billion market, according to figures cited by the news service. If biotech and pharma groups can overcome some of the tricky aspects of development, the field offers a wide-open market for industry players: There are no approved disease-modifying drugs, and hearing loss afflicts almost a third of people between the ages of 65 and 74. 

Pfizer ($PFE) leads a growing pod of pharma whales swimming toward this multibillion-dollar opportunity, with the U.S. drug giant in early-stage development of a treatment that improves the function of hair cells that impact hearing, Reuters reports. Swiss drug giant Roche ($RHHBY) teamed up with Versant Ventures in October on a new biotech vehicle to advance research of drugs against hearing loss. Novartis ($NVS) has a stake in the biotech GenVec's research of a genetic treatment to regenerate hair cells that promote hearing. And Sanofi ($SNY) has a research pact with The Netherlands-based biotech Audion Therapeutics.

"A drug that is therapeutic and priced right could be quite a blockbuster. That's why they've put their toe in the water," said Jonathan Kil, chief medical officer at Seattle-based Sound Pharmaceuticals, as quoted by Reuters.

As the news service noted, the hearing-loss market breaks out into a number of discrete pools of patients with different causes of deafness. Kil's Sound Pharmaceuticals is developing an oral drug and enrolling young patients who use iPods to test the treatment.

Also, the industry is testing a wide variety of therapeutic approaches to restore hearing. For instance, Swiss biotech Auris Medical is developing a cell-penetrating peptide drug known as AM-111. Last month the company reported upbeat Phase IIb data of the peptide drug for acute sensorineural hearing loss.  

- check out the Reuters article

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