- Around 48 million people in the US have hearing loss, but there are no approved drugs to treat it.
- Currently, hearing aids and devices called cochlear implants help people who have impaired hearing, but the devices aren't cures.
- Four companies—Frequency Therapeutics, Decibel Therapeutics, Akouos, and Sound Pharmaceuticals—are all developing drugs to treat different types of hearing loss. All have raised considerable funding rounds.
- Click here for more BI Prime stories.
Around 48 million people in the US have hearing loss. Right now, there are no drugs approved to treat it.
Currently, hearing aids and electronic devices called cochlear implants help people who have impaired hearing from aging, noise exposure, genetics or side effects from drugs.
While these devices can improve hearing, none of them can cure hearing loss.
"Hearing loss is a huge problem and not well served," David Nierengarten, managing director at the investment firm Wedbush, told Business Insider. "We all know hearing aids and implants work, but aren't a great solution and can't serve millions of people who suffer from hearing loss."
At least four startups have raised a total of $349 million to tackle a market that's growing as the population ages and exposure to noise levels increase. By 2024, Americans could spend an estimated $7 billion on hearing devices alone each year, according to Transparency Market Research.
'The ear is a challenging organ'
The hunt for a better understanding of hearing loss extends beyond startups. Apple recently announced a study on hearing in partnership with the University of Michigan to evaluate individuals' exposure to sound over time to see if it will affect their hearing.
Inner ear biology is extremely complicated and is one reason why progress has been slow. Trying to target drugs in that area is even harder.
"The ear is a challenging organ. It has one of the hardest human bones to study," said Paula Cobb, chief operating officer of Decibel Therapeutics, one of the companies working on hearing therapeutics.
Some companies are working on hearing loss therapies that could be given as pills. Others are experimenting with gene therapies, which change the genetic information in cells, often to counteract genetic defects.
Because hearing therapeutics are still in the early stages of development, Nierengarten said there's a lot of room for investment. But without any drugs to build off of, investors are treading carefully in the space.
Read on to see the four companies that have raised millions to develop new treatments for hearing loss.