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Drug tested for sudden hearing loss

UCLH researchers are testing a new drug for sudden-onset sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL), an emergency condition where there is a rapid loss in inner ear hearing – usually in one ear.

The SENS-401 drug – developed by biopharma company SENSORION – was found to be safe after being tested in a small group of volunteers, and researchers from the AUDIBLE-S trial will now test how effective it is in improving hearing in a larger group.

Earlier research suggests it may be able to restore the function of the inner ear hearing cells.

The current treatment for sudden hearing loss  – which affects up to around 13,000 people in the UK each year – is steroid tablets, followed by steroid injections into the ear if hearing does not improve. But not all patients respond to this treatment.

Dr Azhar Shaida, of the UCLH Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital and Principal Investigator of AUDIBLE-S, said: “The current treatment approach does not work in many cases, so there is a need for new, effective alternative treatments.”

Sudden hearing loss occurs most often in the 5th or 6th decade of life. Individuals at risk of cardiovascular disease may be at higher risk, though the cause of SSNHL is unknown is many cases, despite investigation. The condition may be temporary or permanent: up to an estimated 60% of patients have full or some recovery of their hearing.

Dr Shaida said the condition affects patients in a number of ways: “sudden hearing loss makes it more difficult to identify the direction a sound is coming from – particularly when it is noisy – so it affects social interactions, and also increases risk in traffic.

“Because SSNHL occurs suddenly, it also causes stress and anxiety, as patients worry they will lose hearing in the other ear – though this is very rare.”

Participants in the trial will take the drug in tablet form twice daily for one month, and will be evaluated over approximately three months.