Boehringer Ingelheim and China Southeast University Institute of Life Sciences have announced the start of a joint research project to develop new treatment approaches for hearing loss through regeneration of hair cells from inner ear stem cells. The new collaboration combines the expertise of Professor Renjie Chai, one of the worldwide leaders in the field of hearing loss, with Boehringer Ingelheim’s expertise in drug discovery and clinical development to pave the way for the development of much needed new treatment options for this condition.
According to WHO data, over 360 million people live with disabling hearing loss, of which 32 million are children under15 years old. The prevalence of hearing loss increases with age and has a serious impact on the elderly by diminishing their ability to communicate and affecting their daily quality of life. A dramatic increase in frequency of the condition is predicted as a result of worldwide aging populations. Patients with hearing loss usually have degeneration of inner ear hair cells. There is no effective treatment that could restore hearing loss.
“Professor Renjie Chai and his team are among the world leaders in this emerging research area. We are excited about initiating this collaboration, which is an important next step towards a new focus area for our research and development and our first human pharma research collaboration in China,” said Clive R. Wood, Ph.D., senior corporate vice president, Discovery Research at Boehringer Ingelheim. “This is our second collaboration in hearing loss, one of the focus areas of our Research Beyond Borders initiative. It is an outstanding example of how this unique initiative will boost our R&D by partnering with the most innovative scientists working at the forefront of biomedical research.”
The new research collaboration in hearing loss is an initiative of Boehringer Ingelheim’s newly established organisation Research Beyond Borders (RBB). It complements a research collaboration with Kyoto University initiated earlier this year that focuses on utilizing findings on hair cell regeneration in birds. Through the collaboration with China Southeast University, Boehringer Ingelheim will investigate key signaling pathways and proteins involved in regeneration in the inner ear to develop a drug discovery strategy to target hair cell regeneration and ultimately address the unmet medical need in hearing loss via regenerative medicine approaches.
Dr. Wei Xie, Dean of China Southeast University Institute of Life Sciences commented: “Through this joint project with Boehringer Ingelheim, a world leading innovative pharmaceutical company, we wish to further promote scientific development in the field of hair cell regeneration, and to accelerate the translation of basic science to clinical applications. The current collaboration will demonstrate the regulation mechanism of inner ear stem cells, and we hope to develop insights for targeting the key pathways via small molecule compounds together with Boehringer Ingelheim.”
RBB is one of the pillars of Boehringer Ingelheim’s R&D strategy. It complements the company’s five core therapeutic areas (cardiometabolic, respiratory and central nervous system diseases, immunology and oncology) by exploring emerging science, disease areas and technology. It will contribute new innovation opportunities within and beyond the core therapeutic areas and ensure early entry for Boehringer Ingelheim in the next big innovation waves in in biomedical research. RBB is currently focusing on the areas of regenerative medicine, the microbiome and new technologies such as gene therapy.
Asia is rapidly becoming an innovation a hot spot in biomedical research and has gained a leading position in regenerative medicine research. Boehringer Ingelheim is thus expanding its activities in this region and looking for more partnering opportunities. By combining a focus on cutting-edge science with a long-term view the company aspires to develop the next generation of medical breakthroughs to improve the lives of patients with high unmet medical needs.