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Drug to reduce hearing loss due to cancer treatments is now available

Some cancer survivors develop hearing loss, caused by the drugs that treat cancer. A US-based company, Fennec Pharmaceuticals, have developed a new drug that prevents hearing loss in children who have been treated for liver cancer. Dr Carina Santos, from our research team, tells us more.

Cancer is a devastating disease but for some people, surviving cancer does not always mean going back to a normal life. Some cancer survivors have to face a life with severe hearing loss caused by their life-saving chemotherapy. The consequences of hearing loss can be particularly devastating in children, impacting on their language and social development.

Cisplatin is a platinum-based compound widely used in chemotherapy treatments, especially in children‘s cancers because it is highly effective – 80% survival rates. However, this drug can lead to permanent and severe high frequency hearing loss in 6 out of every 10 children following treatment. Hearing loss can occur within hours or days after the first cycle of cisplatin treatment, or develop after repeated rounds of treatment. Many of these children will require hearing aids or cochlear implants for the rest of their lives. However, the adaptation of a child to hearing aids is not easy and a lot of them end up not using them properly. (For real testimonies of mothers dealing with the hearing loss of their children after cancer treatment please watch here and here)

Fennec Pharmaceuticals is a US-based pharmaceutical company that is developing a drug (Sodium Thiosulfate (STS)) to reduce cisplatin-induced hearing loss in children. They recently presented their results from Phase III clinical trials – the final stage of clinical testing before a drug is approved for use. The results show that 67% of children with standard risk hepatoblastoma (a type of liver cancer) treated with cisplatin developed hearing loss, compared to just 37% of children that were treated with cisplatin + STS. Fennec pharmaceuticals has also shown that if STS is given 6 hours after cisplatin treatment it could still help protect hearing without interfering with cisplatin’s ability to kill cancer (you can watch Dr. Penelope Brock, MD, of Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, UK, explaining the results here).

Fennec Pharmaceuticals will now apply for a license from the Food and Drug Administration in the USA and the European Medicines Agency so that they can market and sell the drug they have developed. In the meantime, before it is licensed, parents of children with hepatoblastoma undergoing chemotherapy who wish to protect their children’s hearing with STS can access it under a special scheme called the Named Patient Programme, also known as Compassionate Use Program. These are programmes created by regulators to allow patients with an unmet medical need to have access to promising drugs that are in late-stages of development before they have been approved. You can find out more information about this drug and its Named Patient Programme in the links below.

Further information

Visit the Fennec Pharmaceuticals website:

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