Sylvie PUCHEU, CILcare’s Chief Scientific Officer and Philippe NERIN, SATT AxLR’s President
Montpellier – France – May 17th, 2023 – CILcare, a company specialized in the research and development of new therapies for auditory pathologies, and SATT AxLR are launching the OrgaEar project with the Bioengineering and Nanosciences Laboratory (LBN – EA4203) of the University of Montpellier, directed by Professor Azel Zine. OrgaEar, based on human induced pluripotent stem cell technology and 3D cell culture, aims to generate cochlear organoids containing neurosensory cells from the human inner ear. While very few drug solutions are available to treat deafness, this innovative preclinical model will allow the testing of drug candidates aimed at protecting or regenerating inner ear cells, without resorting to in vivo experiments.
Deafness is a major public health issue: 1.5 billion people worldwide suffer from hearing loss and 50% of young people are at risk of becoming deaf due to exposure to loud noises. According to the latest WHO reports, one in four people will have hearing problems by 2050.
Hearing loss becomes permanent when the cells of the inner ear, in the cochlea, are damaged. Age, noise, certain therapeutics and chronic infections are the main risk factors for sensorineural hearing loss. The loss of these cells is irreversible and leads to the sound signal in nerve impulses stopping. Very few therapeutic solutions are currently available on the market. Devices which amplify the sounds do not necessarily make them more intelligible and do not treat the cause.
The OrgaEar project joins the latest advances in biology and medicine combining research in stem cells and 3D cell culture. The aim is to develop a human cochlear organoid, an intermediate model between cell lines and animals; a “miniature inner ear” so to speak, with the same architecture and all of its functionalities.
Supported and financed at 656 k€ by AxLR, OrgaEar unites several Montpellier players, including the University of Montpellier and its Bioengineering and Nanosciences Laboratory, as well as CILcare, an R&D company specializing in hearing health and a world leader in the field. Other service companies and academic platforms will also be part of the OrgaEar project.
The project will be divided into two stages, taking place over 24 months. The first stage will focus on the culture of human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPS) to obtain embryoid bodies that integrate otic epithelial progenitors. “We chose to work on induced pluripotent human stem cells because they require a simple harvest from the skin; we reprogram them genetically so that they become pluripotent, i.e. capable of differentiating into any type of cell,” explains Professor Azel Zine. The second stage will focus on the generation of a human organoid model. The organoid platform will then be commercially applied by CILcare to accelerate the development of innovative therapeutic strategies for the treatment of sensorineural hearing loss. “We are very excited to be working on this promising new model” adds Sylvie Pucheu, CILcare’s Chief Scientific Officer. “Organoids will become essential tools in medical research. They will open a path to numerous applications, such as the modeling and study of pathologies, drug screening, the development of regenerative therapies… In otology, they should considerably accelerate research in gene therapy. As they are obtained from human material, they will be able to reproduce genetic diseases and their development in a more predictive manner than animal models. The almost infinite possibilities of developing these mini organs from stem cells also represents a major asset for reducing animal experimentation.”
Philippe Nérin, SATT AxLR’s President: “One of the missions of SATT AxLR is to support and enable companies to develop innovative programs with universities and research centers by providing the necessary expertise and financial resources. The therapeutic solutions that will be developed as part of this project will enable CILcare to position itself as a key player in the treatment of sensorineural deafness and to provide treatment for many people.”
This large-scale collaborative project reflects MedVallée’s ambition: to launch innovation in the field of health in order to meet major future challenges, by rallying the Region’s’ various players and their highly qualified teams.
About CILcare: Founded in 2014, CILcare is a company specialized in the research and development of new therapies for hearing disorders. Located in Montpellier and in the Boston area (USA), CILcare has become a preferred partner of pharmaceutical, biotech and medtech industries positioned on the prevention and treatment of deafness and tinnitus. CILcare has state-of-the-art laboratories, research experts in the fields of otology and neuroscience, as well as a worldwide network of partners, which enables it to offer customized R&D programs for each of its clients. In addition to its R&D services, CILcare develops its own portfolio of drug candidates based on its next-generation AI (Artificial Intelligence) and RWD (Real-World Data) platform.
About LBN (Laboratory for Bioengineering and Nanoscience): The team’s work at LBN is organized around 3 interrelated groups related to human stem cells, tissue engineering and neurosensory regeneration of the inner ear. The “Stem Cells, Organoids and Neurosensory Regeneration” group, led by Prof. Azel Zine, has developed specific expertise in in vitro modeling to generate cellular models of the human inner ear from iPS and mesenchymal stem cells. He is exploring the potential of these in vitro models to understand the mechanisms of hair cell and auditory neuron degeneration and to identify new therapeutic approaches for sensorineural hearing loss.
About SATT AxLR: SATT AxLR is a technology transfer acceleration company. It is specialized in the maturation and commercialization of innovative projects resulting from public research. SATT AxLR is working with most of the public research laboratories located in Occitanie Méditerranée, one of the most dynamic French and European regions, with nearly 150 laboratories and nearly 7,000 researchers. Since its creation, SATT AxLR has detected 192 projects, committed 68 million €, carried out 173 successful technology transfers to companies and supported 119 start-ups. At the end of 2022, 42 innovation projects were in the maturation and transfer process.
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