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March 1st, 2012 - Submitted

Defense Department awards $2.4 million to hearing loss project

An Oklahoma biotechnology company received a $2.4 million grant from the Department of Defense to test an experimental drug that would prevent hearing loss.

Otologic Pharmaceutics was formed by Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation scientist Robert Floyd and Hough Ear Institute CEO Richard Kopke. The pair started the company after discovering that a combination of two chemical compounds, 4-OHPBN nitrone and N-acetyl-cysteine, could stop damage to the inner ear caused by acute acoustic trauma.

“I was investigating one compound, and Dr. Kopke had been doing work with the other compound,” said Floyd, who holds the Merrick Foundation Chair in Aging Research at OMRF. “We both saw some success working the compounds individually, but when we combined them, we found that the combination proved many times more effective at preventing hearing loss.”

Kopke and Floyd’s experiments showed the combination to be effective at reducing damage caused by acute acoustic trauma—when intense noise causes the hair cells in the inner ear to die. By administering the compounds soon after exposure to intense noise, the researchers found that they can reduce hearing loss by up to 80 percent.

According to Otologic CEO David Karlman, the new grant will be used to move the treatment to human clinical trials, a necessary step for obtaining Food and Drug Administration approval.

The new treatment could answer a critical unmet medical need, Kopke said.

“We live in a very loud world. Whether it’s soldiers in a warzone or children playing video games with the volume up too high, sound can damage us in very real, very limiting ways,” he said. “Hearing loss alone costs the U.S. Department of Defense about $1 billion a year.”
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