THE BLOG

Why It Pays to Invest in Research

20/04/2015 11:16 BST | Updated 16/06/2015 10:59 BST

I've got some good news that I really want to share with you today - the first drugs to treat hearing conditions are expected within five years according to the report published by Action on Hearing Loss.

This is a big deal. What was unthinkable even a few years ago is now becoming a distinct possibility. Drugs to reverse noise damage, stem cell therapies, gene therapies, enhanced cochlear implants - the new treatments and solutions are coming our way.

With five drugs already in the final stages of clinical testing and a further thirteen in the early stages of clinical development, we can confidently expect the first new drugs to be approved and on the market by 2020.

While we are certainly not expecting a universal cure for all types of hearing loss, we are finally on the cusp of being able to offer some of those who are seeking treatments a wider range of options.

This indeed is a cause for celebration, but also for a reality check as all this research is happening against a dark backdrop of chronic underfunding. Right now we are having to turn away two out of three top class research projects purely because of the lack of funds.

Now, I don't know a single chief executive of any charity who would not bemoan the lack of funding, especially during the past few years when the recession made us all somewhat tighten our belts. But the figures speak for themselves.

Funding for early stage research comes from a variety of sources, but is predominantly from either the government, mainly via its research councils or from charities who fund medical research. Of all the funding made available through these channels, we estimated that less than 1% goes towards hearing research. That means that for every person affected with hearing loss, £1.34 was spent on research, while the corresponding figure for vision research is £14.21.

While I certainly don't want to participate in a competitive sport of comparing disadvantage, I do think that hearing loss, especially mild and moderate loss, is frequently perceived as more of an inconvenience which reflects its slightly less urgent status where funders are concerned.

But what many don't realise is that we are sitting on a hearing loss timebomb.

Currently, one in six people in the UK has a hearing loss - that's 10 million people and with a population that's getting older, it's a growing problem. It's been estimated that, by 2031, more than 14.5 million will be affected - that's one in four of us. As we're experiencing now with dementia, hearing loss is a potential public health crisis. Whilst hearing loss doesn't kill people - it's not cancer or heart disease - it does have huge personal and social costs.

Curing hearing loss and tinnitus is not a question of 'if', but rather 'when', and we firmly believe that treatments and cures will be found within a generation.

Remarkable progress has been made bringing us to a point where we are about to enter a new exciting era where people confronting hearing loss won't just be limited to hearing aids and cochlear implants.

The underinvestment in hearing research is holding us back from making faster progress and for every delay there is someone out there, who is not getting the support they need.

Hearing Progress report can be downloaded at www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/hearingprogress