LaVoieHealthScience Celebrates 15 Years of Client Service to the Health & Science Industry By Supporting Advances in Cancer

LHS team fundraises at Jimmy Fund events and participates in their Strike Out for Cancer Initiative by donating to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Support of Oncology Research and Care

BOSTON, MASS. – October 26, 2016 – LaVoieHealthScience (LHS), an integrated strategic communications agency focused on health and life science, is celebrating its 15th anniversary in 2016. As such, the team participated in the annual WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon and supported the Strike Out for Cancer initiative. “LHS works alongside health and science leaders to help build value for their innovations and, ultimately, benefit humankind,” said Donna L. LaVoie, President and CEO of LaVoieHealthScience. “We are proud to celebrate our 15th anniversary with volunteer work and donations in support of research and care advancement in oncology, a cause we deeply care about.”

LaVoieHealthScience Donating to the Jimmy Fund

LHS participated in the annual WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon by staffing the phone bank and recording donations. The following day, LHS team members continued their efforts with in-park canister collections during a Red Sox game. During the two-day event, the Jimmy Fund raised more than $3.5 million with thousands supporting the lifesaving mission at Dana-Farber.

LHS also made a donation to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute supporting the Strike Out for Cancer initiative.

About LaVoieHealthScience

LaVoieHealthScience partners with leading life science brands to build value for their companies, attract capital, and reach key stakeholders through integrated communications and marketing. The firm provides strategic communications, investor relations and public relations to build recognition and increase sales and value for health science innovations to improve humankind. The agency has received 28 awards over the past seven years in recognition of the work it has done for its health and science industry-leading clients. The agency ranks among the 2016 Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing private companies and among the Top 30 Independent Healthcare Firms as ranked by O’Dwyer’s PR.


Beth Kurth
Vice President
617-374-8800  x106

Medicinal Genomics Uses DNA Sequencing on their Strands of Marijuana

Boston Business Journal

Medicinal Geonomics Woburn company applies DNA sequencing to budding marijuana industry


By: Jessica Bartlett

October 6, 2016

From Purple Haze to Orange Crush, the names given to different strains of marijuana are colorful, and largely just based on where the plant is grown or what people experience when smoking it.

But with medical marijuana’s recent legalization in many states, Woburn-based Medicinal Genomics Corporation is clearing the haze from the differences among different kinds of plants, offering genomics-based quality and strain identification testing for medical and recreational marijuana.

Medicinal Geonomics Lab Photo Woburn“We set out to ask, what questions can we answer with DNA?” said Kevin McKernan, chief scientific officer for Medicinal Genomics, which also offers genomics testing for patients. “The first thing that became apparent in the market is people are tired of not knowing what strain they are dealing with. People name the strains with esoteric and colorful names, but there is no guarantee of what you have.”

After offering a test version of the service to Colorado marijuana manufactures in April, the five-year-old company this week started offering genomics testing for marijuana growers across the country. Clients send DNA samples to the company and receive a partial genome sequencing of the plant, providing a fingerprint of each plant. That can help growers know which plants are psychoactive — containing the euphoric ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol — and which have high amounts of a compound known as cannabidiol that offers medicinal properties of the plant, without the ability to get someone high.

In the 25 states and the District of Columbia which have legalized medical marijuana, the market for genomics testing is wide open. Scientists now typically test only for contamination of plants.

But growers have started to sequencing their strains for intellectual property reasons, and also analyze the genetics to determine which plants are male and shouldn’t be planted (male plants pollinate, ruining an entire crop), and which ones are most productive. For consumers, genetic mapping can tell patients which strains are related, so they can effectively shop at dispensaries. In recreational pot markets, growers are using genetic testing as a branding tool.

McKernan says the size of the market is tough to gauge, but he says safety testing in the food industry — which typically captures 1-3 percent of the market — may be a good guide. If that same percentage holds true in cannabis, the market opportunity could be as much as $1 billion, given the estimated $20 billion to $40 billion market anticipated by 2020. McKernan argues it could be even larger if the company helps marijuana growers breed specific plants with specific properties such as a longer plant with tall stems for hemp fiber, or one with a lot of seeds to make oil.

“We think it will go beyond measuring the fingerprints,” McKernan said. “Traditional agriculture genomics is they began measuring … to select particular traits and could accelerate breeding programs.”

While Medicinal Genomics is growing the marijuana-testing side of the business, the 100-person company will recognize most of its 50-100 percent annual growth on the other side of the business that looks at patients’ genomes to determine the best treatments. Currently, the company is sequencing between 500 to 1,000 patients a month.

NewLink Receives Funds for Research on Ebola Vaccine V920


endpoints news

Feds help NewLink, Merck out with some added cash for Ebola vaccine


By: Arsalan Arif

October 6, 2016

Two months after NewLink was forced to restructure and slash staff in the wake of a Phase III debacle on pancreatic cancer, the Ames, IA-based biotech and its Big Pharma partner Merck can celebrate some added federal research and manufacturing support for their Ebola vaccine.

BARDA — the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority — is handing over $25 million in cash to back up work on V920. There’s another $51 million in added support if BARDA chooses to hand it over. The R&D ops group has already provided $76.8 million for this project, which was sped up considerably during a recent outbreak that has since burned out.

NewLink shares $NLNK surged 7% Wednesday on the news, part of an ongoing recovery that has helped the company’s stock climb back toward where it was trading when their Phase III flopped.

Ebola, though, is an ever present danger, and vaccine development is still underway at some of the majors, like J&J and GSK. Merck stepped in to partner with NewLink in late 2014, as headlines about the outbreak spread fear about the lethal virus. Last July the FDA handed the program a breakthrough therapy designation while the EU stepped up with a comparable inside track designation of its own.

“This new contract issued by BARDA will enable accelerated full-scale production of V920, once it is approved, and is a critical step in helping to make this vaccine available to the health care community as they work to control epidemics and protect medical workers and others at high risk,” said NewLink COO Thomas P. Monath in a prepared statement.



Merck, NewLink nab up to $76M BARDA contract to back Ebola vaccine


By: Stacy Lawrence

October 5, 2016

Partners Merck ($MRK) and NewLink Genetics ($NLNK) have nabbed a $24.8 million contract to support the development of their Ebola vaccine. The candidate just won a breakthrough designation from the FDA and priority medicine status from the EMA in July, with an FDA submission expected next year.

The new grant brings the total invested into the Ebola vaccine candidate, rVSV∆G-ZEBOV GP (V920), by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to more than $100 million. The award also includes another optional $51 million. The funding is slated to go to manufacturing facility readiness, manufacturing process qualification activities and clinical trials.

“This new contract issued by BARDA will enable accelerated full-scale production of V920, once it is approved, and is a critical step in helping to make this vaccine available to the health care community as they work to control epidemics and protect medical workers and others at high risk,” said Dr. Thomas Monath, CSO and COO of the NewLink Infectious Disease Division, in a statement.

Merck in-licensed the vaccine candidate from NewLink in late 2014, with the pharma gaining exclusive worldwide license to develop and market it. The pharma paid a $30 million upfront in October 2014 followed by a $20 million milestone in February 2015 for the start of the pivotal clinical trial. NewLink stands to receive escalating single-digit to double-digit royalties on sales of the Ebola vaccine.

The BARDA infusion goes to a subsidiary of NewLink to continue to support the development of V920. The candidate was originally in-licensed by NewLink from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).

Based on BARDA’s support, V920 advanced through at least 12 clinical trials, including Phase III, in less than two years. Merck isn’t alone among the big pharmas in the development of an Ebola vaccine; Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) are also among those working on one.

Small cap NewLink was up on the latest BARDA news to a market cap of more than $450 million; it hasn’t recovered from May when it was crushed on the news that its Phase III pancreatic cancer trial for vaccine algenpantucel-L failed to meet the primary endpoint.


LEO Pharma Expands Partnering Presence with LEO Science & Tech Hub in Boston



LEO Pharma grabs toehold in Cambridge


By: Robert Weisman

September 29, 2016

Denmark’s LEO Pharma is the latest European health care company to open an office in Cambridge’s Kendall Square, a global life sciences hub.

The company, owned by the LEO Foundation based in the Danish town of Ballerup, plans to announce Friday that it is establishing a local outpost to help invest a $22.5 million fund that will finance collaborations developing skin disease treatments.

Three executives at LEO Science & Tech Hub, an arm of LEO Pharma, will set up shop in Cambridge to vet potential partnerships in dermatology research in the Boston area and beyond. The office plans to make an unspecified number of investments — each between $5 million and $10 million — into alliances with partners making similar contributions.

“By creating alliances with industry and academia here in the region, we hope to change the treatment paradiam in dermatology and improve the quality of life of people with skin diseases,” Kim Kjoeller, executive vice president for global research and development at LEO Pharma, said in a statement.


Spotlight: Q&A with Michael Sierra, Vice President, LEO Science & Tech Hub

October 3, 2016

Spotlight: Q&A with Michael Sierra, Vice President, LEO Science & Tech Hub

Q: Can you give us a quick overview of LEO Science & Tech Hub?

The LEO Science & Tech Hub is the first dermatology-focused innovation center in Boston. The Hub will join forces with the life sciences community to advance the treatment of skin diseases. The unique structure of the Hub will allow for diverse partnerships with academic institutions, biotech companies and venture capitalists, making Boston a logical choice for its location.

Q: What are the Hub’s goals for the coming years?

Our ultimate goal is to pave the way for precision medicine within dermatology so patients can quickly be prescribed precisely the right treatment for them. This has been done already in monitoring heart disease and been shown to reduce the need for surgery. We want to apply this technology to dermatology to help people with skin diseases get the right diagnosis and treatment.Michael Sierra, VP, LEO Science & Tech Hub

It’s about empowering patients and improving their quality of life. And enabling both patients and doctors to monitor, diagnose and treat skin diseases in a more effective and less invasive way.

Our team wants to help academia validate novel targets using LEO Pharma’s disease models and gain access to innovations and technologies that are not currently publicly available. We will actively search for technology partners to solve existing challenges within LEO Pharma’s R&D and independent business unit, LEO Innovation Lab. And of course, we want to provide opportunities for seed investments and establish relationships with external talents at world-class academic and biotech institutions.

Q: How do you plan on achieving these goals?

We want to identify a molecular ‘fingerprint’ or imaging technology that—backed up by an ever-growing sophisticated data set—allows a patient to monitor treatment, predict flare ups and facilitate dialogue with their doctor. We will engage with life science innovators to explore fields such as non-invasive biomarkers, artificial intelligence and imaging technologies.

Q: What can the Hub offer collaborators?

We want to join forces with life science innovators in the U.S. to change the treatment paradigm for people with skin diseases and take the first steps toward applying precision medicine in dermatology. By offering our collaborators access to funding and a unique global network of dermatology expertise, we want to act as catalysts for innovation and help advance new science and technology.

LEO Pharma has experts within our field—a powerful team able to work in an agile way. The Hub has access to full deal-making capabilities and can provide support in terms of seed investments and co-development. Through our parent company, the Hub offers access to a global network of dermatology expertise. Collaborators can access LEO Pharma’s preclinical and clinical expertise as well as the digital healthcare expertise of LEO Innovation Lab. Also, the Hub has funding to co-invest $5-10 million per project to move them forward.

Q: What does the Hub aim to accomplish through these collaborations?LEO Pharma Skin Infographic

First of all, we are seeking new paths of innovation through collaborations, meaning that we are seeking early potential breakthrough science and technologies to be used within dermatology. Forming collaborations can further expand our already extensive global network to connect the dots and will definitely add a lot of expertise as well as financial support. And not to forget, we strive to improve the quality life. These collaborations will allow us to advance new technologies and science to the next stage.

Q: Can we talk a little about burden of skin diseases?

One in four people worldwide live with a skin disease. In the United States, more than 100 million people—one-third of the country’s population—now live with a skin disease. These millions of people and their families face many challenges in their everyday lives. For some, their greatest challenge may be finding a treatment that works to alleviate their symptoms. For others, it’s sticking to their treatment regimen. For others, the social stigma of having a skin disease will be the biggest factor impacting on their quality of life.

Q: What is your vision for standard care in skin diseases in the near future?

Our vision is enabling patients and doctors to monitor, diagnose and treat skin diseases more effectively and in a more user-friendly way. Let me give some examples of what we hope can become a reality.

Imagine if you could use your iPhone to help diagnose whether that strange-looking rash on your arm is in fact a skin disease. With just one click, the phone sends a snapshot to a cloud data platform that quickly analyses your skin using artificial intelligence. Or imagine that, instead of having to undergo an uncomfortable skin biopsy, you could sit comfortably while the doctor takes a picture of your skin and with the help of advanced data analysis can prescribe the right treatment for you.

Q: Why chose Boston?

Boston is the world’s pre-eminent biotech hub with an established innovation ecosystem. Local higher education institutes enjoy global recognition and have over the years sent tens of thousands of talents to advance scientific and technology research. Another reason that we decided to locate the Hub here is the mature biotech scene. Being the first dermatology hub in Boston, we need easy and quick access to resources so that we can focus more on science and technology. We want to join forces with these talents, academic research labs and utilize the existing resources to progress our initiatives in improving diagnosis and treatments in skin diseases.

Donna LaVoie to Deliver Workshop at BioPharm America on How and When to Form a Corporate Board

Boston – September 14, 2016 – Donna LaVoie, president and CEO of LaVoieHealthScience (LHS), an award winning strategic communications agency focused on health and life science, will be a featured speaker on Wednesday, September 14, at the BioPharm America’s 9th Annual International Partnering Conference to be held in Boston.

BioPharm America provides a unique venue for hundreds of the world’s most innovative leaders across the biotech, finance, and pharma industries to participate in high-level networking and partnering meetings.

LaVoie’s workshop, titled Corporate Governance: When to Build a Board and How to Select Your Members, is part of Biotech Startup Day, designed for emerging companies to explore leadership, operations and pathways to commercialization.

The presentation is focused on corporate governance, providing insight about the purpose of a board, the appropriate timing and insight into selecting the right members. As the CEO of a leading business and her background in life science, LaVoie will offer expert guidance on the importance of complimenting business fundamentals with scientific expertise, as well as the appropriate resources to ensure a strong board.

Produced by the EBD group, BioPharm America is an exclusive life science partnering event of the year, fostering the right partners to participate in pre-scheduled meetings, informal networking, and strategic panel discussions.

About LaVoieHealthScience

LaVoieHealthScience partners with leading life science brands to build value for their companies, attract capital, and reach key stakeholders through integrated communications and marketing. The firm provides strategic communications, investor relations and public relations to build recognition and increase sales and value for health science innovations to improve humankind. The agency has received 28 awards over the past seven years in recognition of the work it has done for its health and science industry-leading clients. The agency ranks among the 2016 Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing private companies.


Beth Kurth
Vice President, Investor Relations
617-374-8800 x106

Big3Bio Spotlights Q&A with Ian Chan, CEO & Founder, Abpro

abpro logob3b




About Abpro
Abpro is an integrated life science company focused on industrial biochemistry. Through its DiversImmune™ platform, Abpro leverages synthetic biology and immunology to create novel biomolecules for use in research, diagnostics, animal health and therapeutics. Abpro’s platform has been validated by major pharmaceutical, biotechnology and academic labs around the world.

What was your inspiration for founding Abpro?

We wanted to save the time required to generate basic biomolecules, so that life science research can be accelerated so that treatments can be developed faster. We had been end-users of biomolecules before and many times you are just waiting around for several months for biomolecules before research can even be started.


Tell us about Abpro’s proprietary DiversImmune™ Platform.

Historically, generating biomolecules takes a very long time – from months to years. This is because it requires teams of highly skilled scientists working to find the exact conditions to generate each biomolecule one step at a time. The DiversImmune platform replaces the previously labor intensive steps with technology so that the entire process can be accelerated. Traditionally, antibodies can take up to twelve months to make, for example. With our platform, we have been able to reduce this to less than two months. We leverage massively parallel processes so that multiple steps can be run at the same time. We call this process industrial biochemistry because it replaces manual work with the latest technologies in immunology, next-generation sequencing and engineering.

Why do we hear “more shots on goal” with the Abpro platform?

Our platform allows scientists to design new products by allowing the rapid study of genes. Our Diversimmune platform allows the byproducts from the genes to be quickly created and studied so that new products can be created. Our platform creates “more shots on goal” since we are able to very rapidly create the test products that meet targeted endpoints.

What is synthetic biology, sounds like a contradiction in terms?

Synthetic biology is an application of engineering concepts on a broad scale to understand the complex world of biology in a more simple way. It allows biology to be used deliberately to create novel products.

What are the advantages of using Abpro antibodies?

In addition to more shots on goal, our platform creates biomolecules that are similar to the ones create in Nature. For example, in the case of antibodies, these generally have characteristics such as high binding, specificity and functionality. Our biomolecules, especially monoclonal antibodies, are engineered to be as close to the ones you would find in Nature as possible. These natural characteristics make them very appealing since they generally contain fewer side effects compared to artificially-made antibodies. Additionally, our platform is also much faster than competitive approaches.

Who are your current partners? Can you drop some names?

Some of our partners include Amgen, Genzyme, Merck, Pfizer and others. In addition, Abpro has collaborated with several academic research centers, including Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University and leading academic medical centers to include Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

What do you look for in your partners?

We generally look for partners that are at the forefront of research that have a track record of developing products that have the ability to improve living health, in the research, diagnostics and therapeutics industries. Our partners are global at this point and we are fortunate that they include some of the largest and most successful companies in the industry, such as top academic and research centers and Fortune 100 companies.

You’re often cited as a pioneer in industrial biochemistry. Would you please elaborate?

Industrial biochemistry is the application of synthetic biology and immunology to the life sciences industry so that novel products and treatments can be brought to patients faster. We focus the power of synthetic biology on the life sciences industry.

It sounds like your platform is giving Mother Nature an assist?abpro-ann-liu-l

Immuno-oncology is the fastest-growing category of mAb therapeutics entering clinical studies today and represent tremendous potential. These treatments stimulate Nature’s own immune system to fight cancer.

Immuno-oncology treatments have broad implications for treating disease:

  • We can create molecules that treat disease the way our natural immune system intended to, with better efficacy and lower side effects
  • New therapies can be created that were previously not available against diseases such as cancer

What are some of the goals you hope to achieve at Abpro? Your vision for the future?

Our vision is to be able to help usher in an era powered by biology with novel products that are developed faster and can benefit mankind. Biology is relevant in all aspects of society. By being able to understand biology faster, we can design new products and bring them to market in an accelerated manner. This includes treating disease, such as cancer, at a new level with cutting edge products.

Any final words?

We are excited about the current trends using antibodies to treat disease. There is real progress being made to help patients. We look forward to continuing to play a major role in the industry and helping our partners not only accelerate their research but to bring novel products that can improve living health to market.


Life Science Leader Features Stefan Weber, CEO of Newron Pharmaceuticals SpA, on Drug Company Discovery & Commercialization



Drug Company Discovery & Commercialization: An Election Year Analogy

stefanweberBy Stefan Weber, CEO and Executive Director, Newron Pharmaceuticals SpA

When smaller, boutique drug companies move from precommercial discovery to postcommercial marketing, they can experience a shock. Precommercial work is typically rigorous and controlled with trials conducted in sequential fashion and oversight done by recognized governing bodies. Of course there can be detours along the way, but generally speaking, the path itself is well-known. In contrast, postcommercial work expands the ecosystem and, therefore, brings with it an increasing number of participants, functions, relationships, and unknowns.

To continue reading this story, subscribe to Life Science Leader.



Oticon uses pupil size to develop new hearing devices and measure brain strain

MDD Oticon-Logo


Amanda Pendersen
Medical Device Daily
August 4, 2016

Oticon Inc. is using pupillometry science – a measurement of pupil dilation – to develop hearing aid technology designed to reduce listening effort and conserve energy so that people with hearing loss remember more of what they’ve heard.

In a recently completed study, researchers at the Denmark-based Eriksholm Research Center and the VU University Medical Center investigated how hard the brain has to work to understand speech in different environments and how that knowledge could be leveraged for use in new hearing devices.

Thomas Behrens, head of audiology for the center of applied research at Oticon, told Medical Device Daily that when people pay attention to sound, the muscles in their eyes contract and release based on listening effort. The more challenging the task, the larger the pupil.

“Hearing loss imposes a load on the brain,” he said. “It’s more difficult for the brain to get some of the little details in speech and to separate foreground noises from background noises.”

In most social situations, such as a family dinner or eating at a restaurant, it’s harder for the brain to function because there are multiple people speaking and other noise going on in the background.

In the study, researchers showed how pupillometry could be used to measure strain on the brain’s processing power when trying to understand speech. The results allowed Somerset, N.J.-based Oticon to measure how technology in the company’s new Oticon Opn hearing aid not only reduces listening effort, he said, but also allows people to save energy so they can remember more of the conversation.

Oticon’s technology is designed to open up different environments for people with hearing loss by removing background noise to make it easier for their brain to process what they’re hearing, Behrens said.

The researchers reported that in the study, which included 24 people, in looking into the eyes of Opn wearers compared to people with the company’s older Alta2 Pro hearing aids, they saw 20 percent less listening effort when trying to understand speech while others are speaking. Additionally, they saw an average reduction in peak pupil dilation of 26 percent during the speech-noise reduction task using Opn compared to Alta2 Pro.

“We placed speech and noise all around the person to mimic the family dinner,” Behrens said. He said the Opn reduced cognitive load for study participants by about 25 percent. This provided an objective measure of the cognitive load imposed by hearing loss, which is something audiologists have long searched for, he said, as most research in this area is based on more subjective measures.

Without the help of a hearing aid like this, he said, people with hearing loss get tired easily in these environments and tend to avoid social situations. But that’s not the best solution, he said, because social situations stimulate the brain in many good ways and works against Alzheimer’s and reduces cognitive decline.

“Social situations activate those parts of the brain that you need to keep fresh,” he said.

The company is now tasked with continuing to develop and improve the technology based on user feedback. One of the key challenges Oticon has faced in developing Opn, Behrens said, is actually limiting the technology’s power because early testers of the device reported that it was too effective and reduced too much of the background noise.

“We know we have a lot of power in this technology,” he said.

In the near future the company also wants to explore more ways to make the device more integrated with the wearers brain and more automated than they are today, Behrens said.

The company has started to receive feedback on the technology from people who have used Opn after suffering from hearing loss for many years. For example, Behrens said one person who uses the device is a lawyer who told the company that before having Opn he wasn’t really able to sense what mood people were in – something that made it difficult for him to be fully effective in court.

Others have reported a notable reduction in their anxiety levels because the device gives them the extra cognitive capacity they need to be more certain about what they are doing.

“People feel more free and empowered to live their life the way they want,” Behrens said.

For Tennessee pageant winner, hearing matters


Jessica Bliss
The Tennessean
August 1, 2016

crownEmma Conn, who is representing Tennessee in the Miss United States Pageant, was born with sensorineural hearing loss. It inspired her pageant platform: Hearing Matters.

The lowest tones troubled her the most.

The voice of an older woman.

Most any man’s, including her teachers.

Emma Conn never quite heard them clearly. She had to concentrate on every word. She processed slowly based on context, filling in the blanks of sentences that sounded incomplete in her ears.

She assumed, for a long time, that everyone heard the way she did.

Oh, she knew she had hearing loss — congenital and genetic. Her mother had it. So did her grandfather.

But she never realized to what extent until the day she didn’t have to struggle anymore.

It took 16 years.

Now, with the miracle of ear technology, this Page High School senior can hear more fully.

She can understand the lectures from her teachers in the summer school composition and history classes she takes at Columbia State Community College.

And, just as exciting for her, this pageant queen — who will represent Tennessee in this week’s Miss United States Pageant in Las Vegas — can fully hear the questions being asked by judges.

It all happened just a couple weeks ago.

This week, Conn carries a message of her struggles in her pageant platform: Hearing Matters.

The ‘party in their heads’

The rustling of the leaves. The air conditioner turning on in their house. All the sounds Emma and her mom, Shannon Conn, couldn’t hear before.

“You don’t realize what you don’t know,” Shannon Conn said. “What you miss.”

Emma Conn’s hearing impairment became apparent at age 5. An audiology test confirmed that she had sensorineural hearing loss, which occurs when there is damage to the inner ear or the nerve pathways from the inner ear to the brain.

Most of the time, this type of hearing loss cannot be medically or surgically corrected.

“I got the bad trait,” Emma Conn jokes.

At the time, more than a decade ago, technology couldn’t compensate for what she lacked. No hearing aids existed to help Conn collect the low-decibel sounds she lacked.

So she learned to accommodate. She sat in the front of class. She focused on people’s mouths, trying to read lips.

She got by. Just like when you see a sentence with missing words, you can still fill in the context. Conn did that with conversations.

And she excelled, taking Advanced Placement classes at school and carrying a 4.0 GPA. Pursuing summer classes for college credit as she applies for admission to Northwestern and Vanderbilt.

But she still got lost sometimes. Even if someone spoke loud enough to hear, it could still be sound unclear or muffled. It became difficult, sometimes, to pick out words against background noise. If someone tapped a pencil against the desk in the seat next to hear, Conn couldn’t concentrate on anything else.

“In the classroom, I knew I was missing things I was going to need,” she said.

And when Conn started competing in pageants, she faced other challenges. Often, judges sat six or seven feet away when they asked interview questions, making it difficult to make out what they said.

She has a video of a judge asking her the best thing about high school. She rambled on about her school’s history, not fulling comprehending what was asked.

Another time, she had to ask a judge to repeat the question three times from her spot several feet away. Finally, she just walked right up to the judges table and asked again.

She left embarrassed.

No one ever labeled her. But she knows other kids, whose hearing loss is more significant than her own, do face bullying and isolation. About two to three out of every 1,000 children in the United States are born with a detectable level of hearing loss in one or both ears, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

That’s why she made hearing matters her pageant platform.

“I want kids not to feel like they are apart from others,” Conn said.

But it’s not simple. Hearing is so expensive.

A survey published by the Hearing Review, suggests the average price of a mid-level pair of aids hovers between $4,400 and $4,500. Medicare and many private insurance agencies do not cover hearing aids, leaving many families without the assistance they need.

emFor years, Conn’s mother tried one type of hearing aid after another, spending up to $6,000 on each. None really helped her. She knew it wouldn’t help her daughter either.

Finally, technology caught up.

The family’s audiologist introduced Shannon Conn to Oticon’s new Opn hearing device, and suddenly she could hear new sounds. The hearing aid cost $8,000. Insurance, Shannon Conn said, covers $2,500.

But they were lucky.

The hearing aid company wanted to sponsor Conn, the Miss Junior Teen Tennessee United States, as part of her pageant run. Free hearing aids and a whole new world of understanding.

The first time she put in the hearing aids, Emma Conn cried.

“It was just powerful,” she said. “I spent my whole life being frustrated. In that moment, I felt one step up.”

If Conn wins the Miss United States Pageant in Las Vegas, she wants to travel the country talking to school boards and state officials, convincing them to prioritize the issue of hearing loss in students and provide the technology tools they need to learn.

“People look on the outside of Emma and not on the inside,” Shannon Conn said, “and they miss a lot of that disability, because they don’t realize.

“Now, she doesn’t have to be insecure, so she can perform at the best of her abilities.”


Oticon’s hearing aid uses AI: Are high tech tools for hearing loss ignoring mass market?





Varun Saxena
MedCity News
July 5, 2016

oticon_opn_in_handDenmark’s Oticon is tackling an unmet need among the hearing impaired with its recently launched Oticon Opn high-end hearing aid. Company vice president Don Schum touted Opn’s ability to provide natural hearing in loud environments with multiple speakers.

It’s the first hearing aid to use Oticon’s new Velox data processing platform, which apparently increases speech understanding by 30 percent, and with less effort required.

“Patients who have hearing loss, especially sensory-neural hearing loss, are at a great disadvantage anytime there is other noise in the environment, especially other people talking,” Schum said. “It’s due to the nature of hearing loss. It creates a certain amount of distortion in the auditory system, and when that distortion is spread the brain has a really hard time picking out the talker that the person wants to listen to, and suppressing other talkers.”

Hearing aid companies have served customers facing complex hearing environments using so-called “narrow beam forming,” but it isn’t a very satisfying solution, according to Schum.

“It creates a very unnatural listening experience, because you always have to be looking at only the one person you want to talk to,” he said, adding “People don’t want to only stare one person at a time. It’s just not the natural way to do things.”

Oticon says Opn enables better hearing in complex environments by enabling a wider listening field so that patients can listen to more than one speaker at a time. It achieves this feat using a noise reduction system that updates itself every 10 milliseconds.

Opn can also leverage the Internet of Things. Using the web-based, If This Then That (IFTT) platform, the presence of a low battery can result in an automatic text message being sent to caretakers. And external objects on the IFTTT network, such as doorbells, can be programmed to interact with the hearing aid via algorithms known as “recipes.”

Oticon began commercialization of Opn in June. It must be fitted by a licensed professional prior to use. Audiologists obtain the hearing aid on a wholesale basis from Oticon and set the sales price according to local market conditions Schum said. Therefore, he wasn’t able to provide a specific price for the product, though he said it will be at the high-end of the market.

It’s likely that lower-end versions will be made available over the coming years, for Schum explained that hearing aid companies typically launch premium products when they create a new platform and add less expensive devices over time.

Opn debuts as the hearing aid market receives renewed attention from investors, who were no doubt encouraged by the January 2015 sale of Siemens’ hearing aid unit to a Swedish private equity firm in exchange for $2.68 billion.

Hearing aid company Earlens recently raised $51 million for its FDA-approved Contact Hearing device, which emits infrared light to create the perception of sound. It too seeks to improve natural sound quality and reduce feedback.

New Enterprise Associate is one of the main backers of Earlens. It also led a $25 million financing of Eargo, whose device’s main pitch is its invisibility (at least externally).  And at almost $2,000, the company says its device is about half the standard price.

The FDA has also shown interest in hearing aids, and in April hosted a public workshop on improving their accessibility, usage and innovation of the devices, for Schum said the three-quarters of the hearing impaired population do not use any devices.

And med tech can play a role improving the lives of the deaf too.1776 Challenge Cup pitch competition finalist Pedius, based in Italy, is developing an app that enables the deaf to communicate over the phone by converting their text messages to speech.