Harvard’s Eardrum-Restoring Phonograft Enters Commercial Development


Harvard’s Eardrum-Restoring Phonograft Enters Commercial Development

The technology is now entering commercial development. Driven to make the innovations available to patients, entrepreneurial members of the research team launched a startup company, Beacon Bio, with an exclusive license from Harvard’s Office of Technology Development (OTD) to commercialize the PhonoGraft innovations co-owned by Harvard and Mass General Brigham. Beacon Bio was acquired this summer by California-based Desktop Health, a healthcare business within Desktop Metal Inc. that focuses on new 3D printing and biofabrication solutions for personalized medicine. Nicole Black, Ph.D. ’20, CEO of Beacon Bio, will continue to lead the platform as Vice President of Biomaterials and Innovation at Desktop Health.


The PhonoGraft device is a 3D-printed, biocompatible graft that could be implanted to repair a damaged eardrum. If its clinical advancement is victorious, the PhonoGraft technology could alleviate the pain, drainage, and hearing loss associated with eardrum perforations that affect millions of individuals worldwide.


“I am absolutely thrilled to have Beacon Bio become a part of the Desktop Health team, and to see these innovations advance so far from their earliest days in the lab,” said Black, who is a co-inventor of the PhonoGraft technology and spearheaded its development at Harvard and MEE. “The general support, manufacturing expertise, and regulatory expertise of an established company will be key to bringing the PhonoGraft platform to patients and to developing a regenerative medicine platform around the technology.”


The researchers at Harvard and MEE created the PhonoGraft technology to utilize a novel biomaterial-based approach that guides the regeneration of native eardrum tissue. Its 3D-printed structure mimics the structure of a normal eardrum and effectively stimulates the tissue’s self-healing characteristics, as demonstrated in animal models. The team believes the PhonoGraft material technology – unlike other methods – could potentially enable permanent repair by first closely mimicking and then restoring the eardrum’s sound-conducting mechanical features and barrier functions.


To keep up their momentum, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic was taking hold, the founders of Beacon Bio joined the Harvard Innovation lab (i-Lab), which provides help to fledgling entrepreneurs of early-stage life science or biotech ventures, in the form of fundraising advice, market research, VC relationships, and educational seminars. Beacon Bio was named the $25,000 winner for the Health & Life Sciences Track in the 2021 Harvard President’s Innovation Challenge, held annually by the i-Lab to reward promising translational initiatives that push the boundaries of their fields. In addition, the team participated in the Mass MEDIC IGNITE ManTech accelerator program, gaining valuable insight into the medical device industry through targeted mentorship and workshops. Their participation in the IGNITE program culminated in winning a runner-up prize at the 2021 MD&M BIOME Digital virtual pitch competition.


While the startup team was about to complete its path to independence, Desktop Metal expressed interest in Lewis’ lab and work – which led to an introduction to Beacon Bio. The license now granted to Desktop Metal by Harvard OTD, as a consequence of the startup’s acquisition, includes access to intellectual property covering certain 3D printing inks as well as artificial tympanic membrane devices. Together with Black, Lewis, Kozin, and Remenschneider, seven other researchers from Harvard SEAS, the Wyss Institute, and MEE had contributed as inventors, reflecting the collaborative effort from the earliest days of the project.


For more details: www.yss.harvard.edu