Clark School Spinout Developing Pediatric Cancer Drug Delivery System to Prevent Hearing Loss from Chemotherapy

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A. James Clark School of Engineering spinout Otomagnetics announced the development of a magnetic drug delivery system to enable prevention of a major side effect of chemotherapy in children – hearing loss. Earlier this month, the company was awarded a $2.3 million Fast Track National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Cancer Institute (NCI) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract to support these efforts.

“We are honored and excited to be working closely with the National Institutes of Health to address a pressing clinical need,” said UMD Fischell Department of Bioengineering (BIOE) and Institute of Systems Research (ISR) professor Benjamin Shapiro, the company’s president and CEO. “There should not have to be a choice between effective chemo and lifelong hearing loss. Our technology has the potential to allow treatment by chemotherapy without the attendant risk of hearing loss.” 

The company was launched out of Dr. Shapiro’s UMD laboratory, through collaborations with ISR associate research scientist Didier Depireux, and with co-founders Dr. Irving Weinberg and David Beylin

Platin-based chemotherapy drugs, such as cisplatin and carboplatin, can cause significant hearing loss, particularly in children. This can have a dramatic impact on subsequent quality of life and lead to substantial cognitive and speech development deficits in pediatric cases. 

To address this, Otomagnetics’ drug delivery technique enables application of a topical therapy to the ear’s cochlea to prevent damage that could be caused by toxins, such as cisplatin. Pre-clinical studies have shown that magnetic delivery even of a common off-the-shelf anti-inflammatory steroid can substantially reduce hearing loss from cisplatin regimens, and magnetic delivery of newly-emerging therapies could provide an even greater benefit. Furthermore, topical and non-invasive magnetic delivery of a small dose of an otoprotective drug to the cochlea would not interfere with the intended systemic anti-tumor action of the chemotherapy.

“A lot of progress has been made recently in understanding the causes and mechanisms that lead to hearing loss, tinnitus and balance disorders and what should be done to reverse these,” Depireux said. “On the other hand, getting drugs, genes and their carriers to the inner ear and the inner ear only, in humans, remains a mostly unsolved challenge. We are working to address that challenge.” 

Otomagnetics’ device acts like a syringe that uses non-invasive magnetic forces instead of a needle to safely and effectively deliver therapy to hard-to-reach targets. The company plans to use funding support to progress the delivery system through Food and Drug Administration (FDA) milestones, in order to reach patients. 

In addition to preventing hearing loss in chemotherapy patients, Otomagnetics is developing magnetic delivery to reach middle ear and eye targets, to enable treatment of other conditions. Additional support for Otomagnetics’ efforts has been provided by the Action on Hearing Loss, TEDCO, BioMaryland, the National Institutes of Health, AngelMD (a physician-backed investment group), and the National Capital Consortium for Pediatric Device Innovation


Published October 19, 2017