Sanofi has signed a deal with Dutch biotechnology group Audion Therapeutics to develop treatments for hearing loss using a regenerative medicine approach.

The two-year collaboration, the financial details for which have not been disclosed, will use technology developed at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary by Audion co-founder Albert Edge, who has "strong expertise in stem cells and inner ear biology". The technology was licensed to the privately-held, Amsterdam-based firm and two other co-founders, RolfJan Rutten and Helmuth van Es, said the link-up with Sanofi "validates our thinking around developing small molecule regenerative drugs for the treatment of hearing loss”.

As part of Sanofi's new R&D model, five therapeutic strategic units (TSUs) have been created - ageing, fibrosis and wound repair, immuno-inflammation, infectious diseases and the Asia-Pacific Unit. R&D chief Elias Zerhouni said the ageing TSU will work with the French drugmaker's early-to-candidate unit "to advance novel therapies in the field of otolaryngology using the most advanced technologies available to study cochlear biology”.

The World Health Organisation estimates that 500 million people worldwide have a mild to moderate to severe or greater hearing loss.