A new gene therapy is being developed that may revert hearing loss. Novartis AG (NOVN) a company that manufactures consumer healthcare products, has created a treatment that stimulates the regrowth of damaged hair cells in the inner ear.
This will come as a major relief to the millions of people that suffer from hearing loss. Hearing loss myths have been passed down through the generations in regards to what may or may not be a solution (see hearing loss and isolation). Unfortunately, many home remedies and other myths about hearing loss are inaccurate. Even worse, the actual numbers associated with hearing loss are downright frightening. It’s reported that 48 million people have some degree of hearing loss. 60 percent of these people are in the work force or educational setting. While hearing loss is still mostly prevalent in seniors, rates are growing among teenagers. In fact, 13 percent children and adolescents under the age of 19 have permanent damage due to excessive exposure to loud noises.
Up to this point, the only option for hearing loss was hearing aids or cochlear implants. These devices convert sound waves into signals that are then sent directly to the brain, amplifying sound. However, this may not be the best option for all types of hearing loss.
The NOVN drug targets the auditory hair cells using a disabled cold-causing virus that enters the supporting cells of the inner ear, creating the atonal-1 gene. This gene instructs the cells to grow into hair cells. The usage of genes to treat afflictions is not new. An Amsterdam-based company created Glybera for a rare pancreatic disorder, and was the first gene therapy product to be approved in Europe.
The application of the NOVN drug may prove to be problematic, as it involves a surgeon injecting the drug through a drilled hole in the stapes bone.
NOVN plans to test this treatment on U.S. patients, with expected results by 2017. It’s still too early to determine when this therapy will be approved.