Venture money surges into hearing health treatments

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I’ve been watching Dr. Charles Liberman’s company, Frequency Therapeutics, for several years. He’s the physician-researcher who runs Harvard’s Lauer Tinnitus Research Center in Boston and who has published papers starting in 2009 about “hidden hearing loss,” papers that broke open the Congressional log-jam that prevented significant funding going into hearing disorders. His company has raised an eye-popping $228 million in venture capital–that’s a LOT for an early-stage company–and now they’ve gotten approval from the Food and Drug Administration to fast-track trials of their first product.

But Frequency Therapeutics isn’t the only company in this space. I recently saw information at an investor conference showing that another half dozen companies have also raised significant amounts of venture capital for hearing-disorder treatments. Collectively, they’ve raised over a quarter of a billion dollars! That’s extraordinary progress for a long overlooked sector where nothing seemed to happen for decades and where the only treatment option for decades were extraordinarily expensive hearing aids from a handful of powerful companies charging inflated prices no one could afford.

Now there’s an active market and venture capitalists are diving in! That is a real sign of progress!

Thanks are due to the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology that in 2016 published a report on the noise-induced hearing loss market, and to the National Academy of Medicine report on hearing loss in America that issued a few months later. Those two reports also led to the bi-partisan Warren-Grassley OTC Hearing Aid Act that President Trump signed into law in 2018 and that goes in to effect in January 2020. That act, in turn, has created a surge of investment in personal sound amplification products, or PSAPs, which are high-tech ‘hearing aids’ you’ll soon be able to buy from your local drug store for 1/10th the price of conventional hearing aids.

Change is here!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

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