Hough Ear Institute is developing a new drug that uses RNA technology to regenerate inner ear hair cells and restore lost hearing.
The name of the drug is AOK-1.
Unlike Hough’s first drug, NHPN-1010, AOK-1 is not a pill.
Instead, it is an injection.
And the way it works is equally different.
New: Breakthrough Number Two from Hough Crew
The Hough pill aims to restore hearing by repairing and reestablishing the connections to hair cells. It is designed to rescue or salvage “stranded” sensory cells.
This AOK-1 injection, on the other hand, aims to restore hearing by regenerating, repairing and regrowing the sensory cells themselves. Perhaps even from virtually scratch.
The dream? That AOK-1 could someday give hearing to people affected by even the most severe forms of noise-induced hearing loss.
“…like releasing a ‘parking brake’ on the regenerative process”
Hough Ear Institute CEO Dr. Richard Kopke recently shared the first details on AOK-1, including the big idea behind its mechanism.
From the video (transcribed and lightly edited for clarity and brevity):
The next technology is the one that is injected into the ear and we call it AOK-1. And it’s a regenerative therapeutic. It’s a regenerative drug and it’s an RNA technology. It’s an RNA molecule that eliminates a protein that keeps the hair cells from regenerating in the cochlea. So it’s like a parking brake on the whole regenerative process in the cochlea. When we get rid of that protein, then the hair cells can generate.
In short, AOK-1 is being developed to awaken the human body’s innate ability to repair and regrow its lost or damaged inner ear hair cells. The same way many animals, including birds, frogs, and fish, can naturally regenerate lost sensory cells and hearing. AOK-1, a small interfering RNA achives this by interfering with the protein that is responsible for keeping this regenerative power “asleep” in humans.
A “same-day” hearing restoration procedure?
Dr. Richard Kopke also explained how the drug is being designed as an outpatient “same-day” procedure. It does not require an overnight stay at the hospital. Rather, you get it and go home shortly after. The procedure involves some numbing drops for the ear drum, followed by a minimally invasive injection of thermosensitive hydrogel that contains the active drug.
This delivery method is discussed during the presentation:
Importantly, the science appears to be getting there. In vivo animal model experiments are showing lots of promise. (The research behind AOK-1, by the way, is supported by a $1.9 million Department of Defense CDMRP grant.)
And although AOK-1 is still in preclinical development, Dr. Richard Kopke concluded his presentation with a “hint” at the possibility of upcoming human clinical trials…
His exact words:
Currently we’re under talks and negotiations with another pharmaceutical company that would like to take this technology, license it, and bring it to the clinic. It seems to be a robust, reproducible technology that restores hearing.
The full presentation from Dr. Richard Kopke is available on YouTube: March 2021 – Hough Institute Breakthrough – Member Meeting (uploaded on April 15, 2021). The AOK-1 part of the presentation starts at the 33 minutes, 56 seconds (33:56) timestamp.
For updates on the progress of AOK-1 and its progress toward human studies, subscribe to our free email newsletter (updates).
For those of you who are eager to dive deeper into the science behind AOK-1, here are links to the original research papers:
- https://houghear.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Shibata-Gene-therapy-for-hair-cell-regeneration-Review-and-new-data.pdf [PDF]
Source: Hearing Loss Association of America – Oklahoma Central Chapter. (2021, April 15). March 2021 – Hough Institute Breakthrough – Member Meeting [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCed87H92S4
Acknowledgements: Credit belongs to reddit user u/filleorange for finding and sharing the link to this informative video. (When it was first posted to reddit, the video only had a measly 4 views!)
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