From Vertigo to Tinnitus, Ear Ailments Are New Focus for Drugs
Dr. Hinrich Staecker, left, examining Rob Gerk, who lost most of his hearing when he had meningitis as a toddler.
University of Kansas Hospital
By ANDREW POLLACK
Driving to a meeting in 2008, Jay Lichter, a venture capitalist, suddenly became so dizzy he had to pull over and call a friend to take him to the emergency room.
The diagnosis: Ménière’s disease, a disorder of the inner ear characterized by debilitating vertigo, hearing loss and tinnitus, or ringing in the ears.
But from adversity can spring opportunity. When Mr. Lichter learned there were no drugs approved to treat Ménière’s, tinnitus or hearing loss, he started a company, Otonomy. It is one of a growing cadre of start-ups pursuing drugs for the ear, an organ once largely neglected by the pharmaceutical industry. Two such companies, Otonomy and Auris Medical, went public in 2014.
Big pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and Roche are also exploring the new frontier. A clinical trial recently began of a gene therapy being developed by Novartis that is aimed at restoring lost hearing.