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Sound Pharmaceuticals co-founder and CEO Dr. Jonathan Kil. Photo: Sound Pharmaceuticals

Sound Pharmaceuticals, a Seattle startup developing therapies and preventative treatments for hearing loss, is in the midst of a $30 million investment round with more $4 million raised so far, according to co-founder and CEO Jonathan Kil.

The funds will support the second phase trial of SPI-1005, a drug containing Ebselen, which is a potential therapy for hearing loss and bipolar disorder among other conditions.

After successful results in early trials, SPI-1005 will now enter mid- and late-stage trials, which will help determine its effectiveness as a noise-induced hearing loss treatment and will advance Ebselen towards being approved by the FDA, Kil said.

Noise-induced hearing loss is currently non-reversible. It is also a surprisingly common issue, affecting approximately 15 percent of Americans, and is diagnosed in active-duty veterans at much higher rates.

Ebselen is an anti-inflammatory that can enter the cochlea — the organ in the inner ear which creates neural signals in response to sound — and actively heal cells damaged by noise exposure, which could potentially prevent or reverse hearing loss, Kil said. Ebselen is also being studied in other drugs as a potential treatment for other neurological and inner ear conditions, including Meniere’s disease and toxicity in the ear, a side effect of many drugs including some antibiotics and chemotherapies.

Because Ebselen can also cross the blood-brain barrier, a difficult obstacle for neurological drugs, it is also being studied as a potential therapy for bipolar disorder at Oxford University, Kil said.

Kil, who specializes in auditory neuroscience, said there is a huge unmet need for hearing loss therapies: despite being the third most common chronic condition in the developed world, there are no drugs which treat or prevent hearing loss. Although implants work well for those who need them, there is still a gap between that treatment and the needs of many patients, he said.

Sound Pharmaceuticals co-founder and Chief Science Officer Eric Lynch. Photo: Sound Pharmaceuticals.

“Those are a wonderful invention, but they’re not for the majority of people with sensorineural hearing loss,” Kil said. “Most people aren’t deaf, they are hearing impaired,” and thus the cost of implants can severely outweigh the benefits, leaving them with few options, Kil said.

Kil and Sound Pharmaceuticals co-founder and Chief Science Officer Eric Lynch were inspired to found the company when they met at the University of Washingon sixteen years ago. Lynch had just helped identify the first gene known to causes deafness, but he was interested in more directly applicable work.

Kil was doing research to identify the protein that inhibits regeneration of the cochlea, possibly the key to reversing or preventing hearing disorder. Together, they left the UW and founded Sound Pharmaceuticals in 2002, and are developing this and other research into therapies for hearing loss.

Kil said Sound Pharmaceuticals is the only company he knows of focused on treating sensorineural hearing loss, or hearing loss caused by damage to the cochlea and nerves that communicate between it and the brain.

The company is still in its original headquarters in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, and employs a staff of 10, largely researchers.

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