A leading precision genetic medicine company focused on inner ear disorders
We are developing targeted adeno-associated viral (AAV) vector-based gene therapies for sensorineural hearing loss, the most common form of hearing loss and one of the most common of all sensory disorders.
The Anatomy of Sound
The ability to detect complex sounds is possible because of the fine structures of the ear, how they interact with each other, and how they connect to the brain.
The outer ear helps capture air compression waves and funnels them to the eardrum. The eardrum is connected to the bones of the middle ear, which work together to convert air compression waves into fluid waves in the cochlea. The cochlea is the part of the inner ear that contains the sensory cells, which in turn convert fluid waves into neural impulses that can be transmitted to the brain. This final step in sound transduction requires the coordination of dozens of specialized cell types, each performing a specific function based on a unique gene expression profile. The resulting biology allows us to resolve inner ear movements 100,000 times smaller than the width of a strand of hair.
The intricate interplay of inner ear structures required for healthy hearing can be disrupted by changes in the DNA that encodes essential proteins and regulates their function.
Addressable Target Landscape
Millions of people worldwide are deaf or hard of hearing as a result of genetic mutations affecting any one of over 150 genes linked to inner ear dysfunction. There are more than 6,000 known variants across these genes that can result in cochlear pathology and subsequent hearing loss. Depending on the genes involved, various subpopulations of cells in the cochlea can be affected.
In some cases, it may be possible to recover hearing by delivering a healthy copy of the affected gene to the cells that need it.
What Akouos is Doing to Help
At Akouos, we are combining a novel delivery approach with the latest advances in gene therapy and hearing research with the goal of restoring the natural function of the inner ear. Akouos is advancing multiple candidate therapies that target sensory cells (such as inner hair cells) and nonsensory cells (such as supporting cells), in an effort to provide new potential therapeutic options for as many people as possible. Our lead program, AK-OTOF, is an AAV gene therapy intended for the treatment of, and potential restoration of hearing in individuals with sensorineural hearing loss due to mutations in the otoferlin (OTOF) gene.
Our Technology Platform & Approach
Ensuring delivery to the right cells, in the right amounts, and at the right time is central to our ability to restore and preserve hearing.
Novel AAV technology
Recombinant adeno-associated viral (AAV) vectors can be harnessed as powerful vectors that are capable of safely and efficiently delivering therapeutic nucleic acid payloads to the nuclei of target cells. We have exclusive rights to the Ancestral AAV (AAVAnc) Technology platform, for disorders or diseases pertaining to the inner ear, hearing and balance, developed in the laboratory of our scientific co-founder, Dr. Luk H. Vandenberghe, at Massachusetts Eye and Ear. Anc80L65, one of 38,000 AAVAnc vectors, has been shown to transduce sensory cells of the inner ear with high efficiency, and transduce cochlear cell types previously thought to be inaccessible with AAV.
Minimally-invasive surgical delivery
Target cells of the inner ear sit on a sensitive epithelial membrane, suspended between two fixed-volume fluid spaces and encased in dense bone. Our delivery team is focused on achieving consistent vector distribution along the sensory epithelium without disrupting normal hearing sensitivity. Two of our scientific co-founders, Drs. Michael J. McKenna and William F. Sewell, are leading experts in inner ear drug delivery and pharmacokinetics, and have developed a novel delivery approach with the goal of safely delivering therapies of any modality, from small molecules to AAV vectors, throughout the inner ear.
Target selection guided by clinical genetics.
Our ability to match precision medicines with the right patients is rooted in our team’s understanding of hearing loss genetics and causes. The Akouos founding team has over 100 years of combined research experience characterizing inner ear structure-function relationships. The work of co-founder Dr. Richard J. Smith, world-renowned for his scientific and clinical expertise in hereditary hearing loss, allows us to use genomic signatures associated with specific hearing disorders to design precision therapies.
Adeno-associated viral (AAV) gene therapy is now an established therapeutic modality that allows for efficient gene transfer to the nucleus of targeted cells. AAV can achieve safe and long-term expression of a delivered gene following a single administration. The gene of interest can be any of the following:
- Healthy copy of a gene responsible for hearing loss due to loss-of-function mutations
- RNAi or gene editing sequences targeting toxic gain-of-function or dominant negative mutations
- Protein sequence (e.g., monoclonal antibody) targeting a disease pathway responsible for non-monogenic hearing loss
Our commitment to individuals and families affected by hearing loss fuels our efforts to establish Akouos as a fully integrated platform company capable of delivering potentially life-changing treatments to individuals in need.
Akouos is committed to manufacturing excellence and to building leading process development, analytical development, and GMP manufacturing capabilities to support a rich pipeline of AAV gene therapies. In 2017, Akouos formed a strategic partnership with Lonza to expand our manufacturing efforts and help us serve our mission of bringing healthy hearing to as many people as possible.
The Sing Registry
Together with leading clinicians, researchers, and their medical institutions, Akouos is proud to sponsor the Sing (sensorineural genetic) hearing loss registry. The Sing Registry is a long-term observational study designed to assess how genetics affect changes in hearing over time and to better characterize the impact of different treatment options and interventions, such as hearing aids, cochlear implants, or new investigational therapies, in people with genetic sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL). The Registry is designed to provide the research community with a broad resource to centralize genetic SNHL participant data longitudinally to advance understanding of genotype/phenotype relationships and natural history within genetically-defined populations. For more information on the Registry please visit www.SingRegistry.com.
Our Project Pipeline
AK-OTOF is a gene therapy intended for the treatment of, and potential restoration of hearing, in individuals with sensorineural hearing loss due to mutations in the otoferlin (OTOF) gene. Normal otoferlin function enables the sensory cells of the ear (hair cells) to release neurotransmitter in response to stimulation by sound to activate auditory neurons.
Without functional otoferlin protein, auditory signals received by the ear cannot be transmitted to the brain. AK-OTOF uses an adeno-associated viral (AAV) vector to deliver a healthy copy of the OTOF gene to cochlear hair cells, with the goal of restoring long-term physiologic hearing following a single administration to the inner ear. AK-OTOF is intended to treat individuals with sensorineural hearing loss due to mutations in the OTOF gene, who typically have severe to profound bilateral hearing loss from birth, by promoting the expression of normal, functional otoferlin protein in affected cells of the cochlea. Mutations in the OTOF gene are reported to be a major cause of genetic hearing loss, affecting an estimated 200,000 individuals worldwide.