Boston-based Third Rock Ventures announced today it had raised $52 million to launch a company called Decibel Therapeutics to work on hearing loss.

 

Decibel Therapeutics will be headquartered at 215 First Street in Cambridge, Mass. near Kendall Square. The company has already started to hire, planning on having 50 to 60 scientists working by the end of the year.

“We’re hiring like crazy,” said Kevin Starr, cofounder of Decibel and partner at Third Rock. “This is one of those big-space, big-idea companies that we think will have an impact on millions of patients and their families. And this is one of those new frontiers where researchers can pioneer some new discoveries.”

The initial funding was led by Third Rock and joined by GlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK‘)s venture arm, SR One. The company’s cofounders include M. Charles Liberman, director of the Eaton-Peabody Laboratories at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Gabriel Corfas, director of the Kresge Hearing Research Institute at the University of Michigan, Ulrich Muller, director of the Dorris Neuroscience Center in San Diego, and Alberg Edge, director of the Tillotson Cell Biology Unit at Mass. Eye and Ear.

The company plans to combine diagnostic tools, biological insights, modeling and therapeutic delivery techniques to develop a pipeline of drugs to target specific indications. Decibel already has a near-term clinical candidate, as well as other targets to analyze. The focus will initially be on pediatric cancer and cystic fibrosis (CF) patients, who often have hearing loss as the result of the drugs they take. Other things evaluated will be noise-induced hearing loss, hearing loss related to cochlear implants, age-related hearing loss and tinnitus.

Although details are few and far between, the company apparently is looking at an antibody or some compound that can help grow neurites. Neurites are projections from neurons. The compound would be injected into the inner ear, although anything the company comes up with is probably two to three years from human clinical testing.

“Millions of people are afflicted with hearing disorders and that number is growing rapidly,” said Starr, who will be chairman and interim chief executive officer of Decibel, in a statement. “Hearing loss can range from minor issues — involving losing small levels of high frequency hearing from prolonged noise exposure — to very severe — resulting in close to total deafness as a long-term side effect of chemotherapy or aminoglycoside treatment. Our aim is to make an impact on the quality of life for those patients and families with the most severe forms of hearing disorders.”

Other companies focusing on this area include Otonomy Inc. (OTIC), Auris Medical (EARS), Autifony Therapeutics, and Audion Therapeutics. In this regard, Decibel is running behind. Otonomy has late-stage clinical trials coming up soon for Meniere’s disease, a disorder of the inner ear, and Auris has a drug in Phase III trials for tinnitus. Autifony is a spinout of GlaxoSmithKline.

Other companies include Kyorin Pharmaceuticals, Merz Pharmaceuticals, Novartis (NVS), Otic Pharma and Synphora. A Seattle-based company, Sound Pharmaceuticals, has received funding from the U.S. Department of Defense because of concerns over hearing problems in veterans exposed to gunfire or loud blasts.

“Many of those companies are single product shots,” Star told Xconomy. “This’ll be by far the largest effort in building the fundamental platform of understanding what’s happening physiologically, in hearing, in the world.”

 

Source: BioSpace

Third Rock and GlaxoSmithKline’s SR One Launch Decibel Therapeutics with $52 Miliion, Expect to hire 50-60 By Year End
October 15, 2015
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff