Startups

Another Langer-backed biotech breaks out of stealth mode, aims for the clinic with hearing loss therapy

David Lucchino

Over the last 18 months the team at Frequency Therapeutics’ Kendall Square office has been making quiet progress with its preclinical work on a new approach to curing hearing loss, exploring the potential of a therapeutic technique that emerged out of the lab of MIT’s serial science entrepreneur Bob Langer and his colleague Jeff Karp. Today, though, the stealthy ramp-up is over as the biotech debuts its management team and R&D strategy.

David Lucchino, the CEO, tells me that it all got started years ago when Langer, who’s been working in the regenerative medicine arena, brought up the research he was doing on progenitor cells.

“There are 15,000 hair cells in your ear” which are needed to hear properly, says Chris Loose, co-founder and CSO. Noise and other factors destroy that intricate biologic machinery needed for hearing. But the progenitor stem cells that give life to those cells are lying dormant. And Frequency plans to develop a therapy that can spur them back into business.

That approach — like jump starting a dead battery to get a car back on the road — gave birth to a platform coined progenitor cell activation (PCA), and a strategy to develop small molecules to restore hearing. Frequency believes the platform has the kind of versatility that can take it into other disease fields, such as retinal diseases, skin ailments or diabetes.

Loose and Lucchino, who both worked on Semprus BioSciences, one of more than 30 Langer-inspired biotech startups which was sold in 2012, are part of a 12-member team that’s doing the preclinical work. They plan to jump into human studies in about 18 months. And they’re eager to prove that reviving dormant stem cells could be a much more effective and efficient approach than the more complex science behind stem cell therapeutics.

This isn’t your classic biotech startup model, explains Chairman Marc Cohen, another well-connected biotech player drawn by Frequency’s potential. Cohen had been chairman at Acetylon before Celgene acquired the company, and is chairman at C4, which launched with a $73 million round last year. He and his brother run Cobro Ventures. And instead of rounding up venture backers, they’ve been assembling the team and starting the work with some nontraditional backing.

“We have brought together a group of angels, or super angels, I worked with in the past to provide the initial funding of the company,” says Cohen. “That’s a group of people with a similar vision, and we’re looking forward to advance this, get it into the clinic.”

“What’s nice about this space is that the endpoints are crystal clear,” says Loose. “You don’t need extremely long-term outcomes studies. That’s a benefit.”

Frequency is expanding, and it’s also moving away from Kendall Square and into a new facility Alexandria built in Woburn. But while it may be a bit further from the center of the biotech hub, you can expect the biotech to turn up the volume on its next stage of development.

You’re likely to hear them loud and clear.


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