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Bold Impact of Companies Creating Hearing Loss Treatment

Hereditary hearing loss is caused by a mutation in a single gene, and it impairs hearing from birth. For millions of people all over the world, it is a life-long disability that has no cure and no approved drugs for treatment. But a Boston-based biotech company called Akouos has begun developing a gene therapy that helps patients take back their hearing.

Development Funding

Akouos has raised $50 million in its first round of major funding to finance research and development for correcting genetic forms of hearing loss. It has received the first tranche of $25 million and wishes to demonstrate the effectiveness of the treatment in humans in the next five years. There are no specifics about the financing, but the remainder of the funding will presumably come with the success of the initial trials.

Companies Treating Hearing Loss Treatment like Akouos
Companies Treating Hearing Loss

The recent round of funding was led by 5AM Ventures and New Enterprises Associates. These two companies previously invested $7.5 million in Akouos in November 2017. Previous investor Partners Innovation Fund, contributed, with RA Capital Management, Sofinnova Ventures, and Novartis Venture Fund also joining the investor pool.

Apart from the recent financing, Akouos announced the appointment of Michael McKenna, Akouos co-founder, as Chief Medical Officer. He has been a professor at Harvard Medical School since 2006.  Akouos also appointed Jennifer Wellman as Senior Vice President. She was instrumental in the company’s regulatory work for gene therapy.

Hearing Loss in Detail

Hearing involves the inner ear’s hair cells translating auditory vibrations into electrical signals. The auditory nerve then transports these signals to the brain. There it is processed as sound. In the deaf, hair cells are present in their ears, but they do not function because of the genetic mutation. Akouos is using an engineered Adeno-associated virus (AAV) to send an operational copy of the mutated gene into the inner ear’s cells.

Akouos’ AAV approach is similar to Spark TherapeuticsLuxturna, which received approval from the FDA for gene therapy last year. Luxturna treats a rare inherited type of blindness. Like the Spark Therapeutics gene therapy, Akouos’ therapy targets patients with a genetic disease. It is based on the research of the founder, Luk Vandenberghe, an ophthalmology professor at Harvard Medical School. He is also the director of the Grousbeck Gene Therapy Center at Massachusetts Eye and Ear. Akouos’ CEO Manny Simons said the Vandenberghe method proves that the AAV can reach depths other viral vectors cannot.

Akouos is now testing its treatment on animals. By next year the company hopes the FDA will allow human testing, and to have clinical trials in three years. Simons remarked that Akouos is also using the fund to develop a wider range of therapies to treat hearing loss.

Hearing Aids An Industry on the Move

Apart from Akouos, there are other companies developing important treatments to address hearing loss treatment. One of them is Frequency Therapeutics from MIT, which focuses on activating the “progenitor” cells, or dormant cells that have the ability to transform into other cells. The company raised more than $30 million in funding in 2017with the goal of getting the progenitor cells to form new hair cells in the inner ear.

Another company is Decibel Therapeutics, which received close to $55 million in financing in June. It is developing a pipeline of experimental treatments, one of which includes gene therapy for hearing loss. While it has not detailed its gene therapy initiatives, Decibel Therapeutics aims for human testing in two years. Some of its treatments closer to clinical testing are meant to prevent other types of hearing loss.

But the company that has stayed ahead of the curve is Novartis, which is in early-stage clinical testing for gene therapy for hearing loss. Novartis has asserted that a gene dictates the growth of hair cells in the ears, but this growth ceases shortly after birth. Their gene therapy, CGF166, reintroduces the gene into the cochlea via a virus and turns the gene on like a switch. This stimulates the hair cells to grow and develop fully, priming the ears to function as normally as possible.

Changing Lives Through Hearing Loss Treatment

Gene therapy for the hearing-impaired is a new step toward helping people reclaim their senses, and experience the world normally. It is a welcome revolution. Soon, people will not be as dependent on hearing aids or implants anymore, instead of turning to gene therapy for a more permanent solution. The world can expect more breakthroughs as these bold companies make bold innovations to treat hearing loss in the years to come.


Is Technology for Elderly the Next Big Tech Boom and Bold Idea?

In 2014, a Pew Research Center survey said more than half of the American population uses the internet. The survey accounted for people aged 65 and up. Baby boomers and technology are no strangers to each other. This generation, as a matter of fact,  is the first to experience tech products of the era. Bold Business article Economic Opportunity, Senior Healthcare, shows that technology for elderly is a hot commodity today. Seniors have the spending power to finance their need for technology. They are active smartphone users, online readers, and even gamers.  Some have gone beyond this just like Japan’s 82-year old app developer Masako “Ma-chan” Wakamiya.

The world’s aging population needs technology for elderly. According to the US Population Bureau, the American population of people who are 65 and older is likely to double from 46 million today to over 98 million in 2060. Additionally, this age group, which comprises 15 percent of the country’s total population, will rise to 24 percent. Meanwhile, in China, the number of people -over 65 is projected to grow to 370 million by 2050 from 138 million in 2014.

Technology for Elderly, Elderly Home Care Services with technology
Elderly Home Care Services

This statistics will continue to rise in the coming years. As a result, seniors will need better healthcare, shelter facilities, transportation, and social activities. What are other possible ways to enhance the way of life of old adults but to maximize technology for their convenience? For instance, companies need to create assistive technology for seniors for them to enjoy life, even at this age. The Future of Telehealth published in Bold Business outlines the convenience of telehealth in helping the elderly get an initial diagnosis without visiting a clinic.

Startups’ Technology for Elderly

Many tech companies and startups are beginning to recognize the potential market for new technology for elderly. They, therefore, started the assistive technology for seniors to make their life easier and more comfortable. For example, Higher Adoption Of Digital Healthcare From Seniors In Australia, frames the growing interest and demand on digital platforms to help the elderly. Below are business startups and tech companies that venture into developing technology for older adults to serve the soaring market.

Apps and Social Networking

Seniors need to socialize. Technology for elderly includes applications to help them connect with families, friends, and find companions.

  • 3rings Plug is a UK-based company that allows family members to monitor their elderly at left home. This elderly care technology uses a “smart plug” connected to appliances. It sends signals to a smartphone whenever the plug is accessed.
  • Breezie is technology for seniors made easy. Unlike other apps that run complicated operation, Breezie simplifies it all. It uses a simple OS that helps the senior citizens build connections online and access the services they need like social companions, telehealth services, online ordering, games, and reading materials.
  • Easy to Connect (E2C) is another social networking technology for elderly. This technology for seniors makes devices like smartphones and smart TV, tablets, and wearable watches easy to use. E2C uses safe, coherent, and simple applications suited for elderly essentials. Lastly, Stitch is an online website that helps elderly find companionship. It’s like Tinder for seniors.

Elderly Home Care Services

Home care services also use technology for elderly. Online platforms like HomeHero and Hometeam help families find, hire, and manage quality elderly home care services. They partner with professional caregivers and facilities for elders’ better care and aging experience. Honor Technology, a San Francisco-based company, is one of the unique platforms for home care services. It personalizes elder-care services and allows seniors to connect with their families and find qualified caregivers. It uses an app for setting a schedule, doctor’s appointment, and other home care activities. This tech innovation has raised millions from two large investment firms – $20 million from Andreessen Horowitz and $42 million from Thrive Capital.

Accessories and Recreation Technology for Elderly

Seniors must also enjoy the perks of today’s technology. Rendever’s CEO and co-founder Kyle Rand helped develop Rendever’s Virtual Reality for his grandmother who lives in a home facility. She inspired him to create this technology for older adults so they can spend time “outdoors” and have something to talk about as a group. Seismic Powered Clothing is another tech accessory for seniors.  It helps the elderly and people with mobility disorder. Seniors who want to regain and maintain their strength can wear this tight suit under their regular clothes.

Senior Living Lyft Rides partners with ridesharing app called ‘grandPad’ in helping seniors get to their destinations safely at an affordable price. Family members can program this app with the elder’s frequent destinations like the market, grocery, clinic, and others. Reemo Health from Minneapolis developed a wearable watch. This assistive technology for seniors connects patient’s health data to caregivers. Knopka Zhnizni is another assistive technology for elderly with a mobile medical alert system for the elderly and disabled.

Breakthroughs in Assistive Technology for Seniors

Assistive technology for seniors has developed over the years. Levitation Bionic Knee Brace and Steadiglove started the race. Levitation Bionic Knee Brace is a carbon-fiber leg brace that can lift 40 pounds. Patients with knee and leg injuries and elders with weakening joints use this accessory. Its designer and manufacturer Spring Loaded has raised $2.4 million after launching the product in summer of 2017.

About 230 million people around the world suffer from hand tremor conditions, like Parkinson’s. Significantly, twelve million of them are Americans. Steadiglove is a technology for elderly suffering from these conditions. Imagine the relief that this technology brings to those patients. Lastly, but maybe one of the most remarkable breakthroughs in technology for elderly is the Tinybots. These small robots are assistive technology for elderly suffering from dementia. They can also facilitate systematic reminders, play music and tell stories as programmed.

The Challenge on Technology for Elderly

Old adults experience challenges due to their physical vulnerability, health conditions, and financial state. Each one has a unique story. Each one has a different need. These considerations post challenges on startups. First, tech companies must consider these needs to create the best technology for seniors. Second, they should focus on elderly-friendly designs. Older people need functional but straightforward technology and those that have benefits they would appreciate.

The challenge for startups and tech companies is how to finance these projects. They need investments to fund more expensive research designs, trials, and manufacturing of new technology for elderly. It is not an overnight success. Nothing is. However, for a potential market like this, companies are confident that more investment firms will be willing to take a risk and cover the expense.

Technology Meant for the Elderly—Making Lives of Seniors Easier Cartoon

cartoon of two seniors using technology while lounging on beach chairs by the seashore
Startups are seeing the potential market for technology meant for the elderly. What are the breakthroughs and challenges related to this bold idea?