Reversing the Sounds of Silence

Hearing Loss Pill Coming on Market

For the last several years, the Office of Naval Research has funded the research of Colonel Richard D. Kopke, MD, and Commander Michael E. Hoffer, MD, at Naval Medical Center San Diego on the prevention and restoration of hearing loss — loss that is due to traumatic noise exposure, or to chemical, specifically cancer, therapies. Two years ago, they received a patent on this technology, which introduced an antioxidant drug compound to the inner ear. The treatment promised to not only reduce damage to auditory tissues and reduce hearing loss due to noise and chemical insult, but, in some cases, to actually reverse it.

Now the American BioHealth Group, LLC, of San Diego, CA has signed an exclusive license with the United States Navy to bring this new treatment to the market. Under the terms of the license, American BioHealth Group will conduct clinical research, product development and have an exclusive license to market the new compound. It will be the first pharmaceutical product in the marketplace targeted at specific hearing loss.

"The compound is not yet available to the public. We are still involved in intensive testing and development," says David Karlman of American BioHealth. "Our target date for getting this to the public is 2007."

Bone-jarring noise generated by machinery, gunshots, jet engines, and rock concerts destroys hearing, and hearing loss costs the Veterans Administration over $300 million a year on disability compensation and treatment for hearing loss — the single largest disability expenditure it has.
"The auditory receptors in the cochlea are what actually hear sound, says Commander David Street, who oversees the research on the treatment at ONR. "These are connected to nerve cells and they in turn are connected to the brain. If we are able to repair and re-grow injured or damaged auditory hair cells inside the cochlea, then some hearing may be restored."

Dr. Kopke is quick to point out that older, long-standing hearing loss due to noise or chemical exposure probably will not be helped by the new drug.

"We are trying to prevent hearing loss by bolstering the inner ear's antioxidant defenses, making the ear more resistant to noise or toxins or infection," Dr. Kopke says. "And, we're also exploring strategies to regenerate the inner ear sensory hair cells and nerve endings. We've had some initial success at the basic science level, and we've had some success with rescuing the hearing of some patients with sudden hearing loss if we can treat them within 4 to 5 weeks of their sudden hearing loss, but this remains a difficult area."

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