A Clinical Trial for a New Drug to Protect Hearing

By Yishane Lee

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a novel drug to protect against ototoxicity (harmfulness to hearing) due to the use of aminoglycoside antibiotics to treat severe infections. The FDA approval paves the way for a Phase I clinical trial to test whether the drug, found to be significantly protective in animals, is safe for humans.

  Mature lateral line hair cells from larval zebrafish (shown with the neuromast sensory organ enlarged) serve as a platform for studying drugs and genes that modulate hair cell susceptibility to ototoxic agents.  

Mature lateral line hair cells from larval zebrafish (shown with the neuromast sensory organ enlarged) serve as a platform for studying drugs and genes that modulate hair cell susceptibility to ototoxic agents.  

The drug, ORC-13661, was developed by University of Washington professors Edwin Rubel, Ph.D., and David Raible, Ph.D., who are members of Hearing Health Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Board and Hearing Restoration Project, respectively, and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center scientist Julian Simons, Ph.D. “While this program was not directly funded by HHF, both David and I have definitely been supported by HHF for a long time,” Rubel says. “This is a drug to prevent hearing loss that we've developed over the past 15-plus years.”

Rubel points out the drug’s two main features: “It is a brand new drug with a composition of matter patent, not one that is used for other medical purposes and being repurposed; and it is the first drug that was developed, from the get-go, to protect hair cells from ototoxic injury.”

After screening libraries of potential chemicals to see which stopped hair cell death in zebrafish lateral line system, Rubel, Raible, and team identified the best candidate and then boosted its effectiveness by tweaking its chemical structure; results were published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry in January 2018.

Rubel adds, “Toxicity studies in zebrafish, rats, and dogs required by the FDA show superior safety and nearly 100 percent hearing protection at all frequencies.” If the Phase I trial shows the drug is safe for humans, the next step is to test its efficacy among patients using aminoglycosides.

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