Hear hear! Ear gene therapy player Akouos draws $105M in fresh capital
Come on, come on, listen to the money talk.
Thriving on the momentum of biotechnology companies working on therapies to address hearing loss, Boston-based Akouos has scored $105 million in an oversubscribed Series B financing, less than two years after an NEA, 5AM Ventures-backed $50 million haul.
Akouos — Greek for ‘to hear’ — is developing gene therapies engineered to restore, improve or preserve hearing. Along with its partners — the world’s largest hearing research center Massachusetts Eye and Ear, as well as Swiss Alps-based viral gene and cell therapy maker Lonza — Akouos is at the cusp of taking its lead therapy into the clinic.
The program, AK-OTOF, is designed to help individuals with sensorineural hearing loss due to mutations in the otoferlin (OTOF) gene.
Led by Manny Simons, who considered becoming a musician while attending Harvard, Akouos has another Harvard man on the roster — co-founder and chief medical officer Michael McKenna. On Monday, the company added a third Harvard voice to its board — Vicki Sato — who previously served as president of Vertex Pharmaceuticals. Heather Preston of Pivotal bioVenture Partners, which led the fresh capital injection, also earned a spot as director.
Other investors in the round included Cormorant Asset Management, Cowen Healthcare Investments, EcoR1 Capital, Fidelity Management & Research Company, Polaris Founders Fund, Pagsgroup, Surveyor Capital (a Citadel company), Wu Capital, 5AM Ventures, New Enterprise Associates, Novartis Venture Fund, Partners Innovation Fund, RA Capital Management and Sofinnova Investments.
Hearing aids and cochlear implants do address ear damage caused by genetics, noise, aging, or drugs, but nothing quite cures or indeed targets the biological underpinnings of hearing loss. Vying to fill that gap, a plethora of developers are working on therapeutics in a burgeoning field.
Also in Boston, Akouos’ home, is Decibel Therapeutics, working on regeneration by targeting tiny hairs that grow in the inner ear to address congenital hearing loss or age-related balance disorders. Frequency Therapeutics has a mid-stage hair cell regeneration program using progenitor cells.
Across the Atlantic, UK-based Rinri Therapeutics is working on treating hearing loss by transplanting otic neural progenitor cells into the inner ear. Amsterdam-based Audion Therapeutics has a compound in-licensed from Eli Lilly, which is designed to turn on a chemical switch to produce new sensory hair cells from other cells in the inner ear to improve hearing.