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Unprecedented academic-industry collaboration seeks new drugs and novel treatments for autism

An international consortium of scientists, led by Roche, King's College London, and Autism Speaks, is collaborating on one of the largest ever academic-industry research projects to find new methods for the development of drugs for autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

European Autism Interventions A Multicentre Study for Developing New Medications (EU-AIMS) is the largest single grant for autism research in the world and the largest for the study of any mental health disorder in Europe.

The project, which will take place over the next five years, brings together top scientists from universities around the world, experts from Autism Speaks the world's leading autism science and advocacy organization as well as major global drug companies from the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industry Associations (EFPIA) including Roche, Eli Lilly, Servier, Janssen Pharmaceutica, Pfizer and Vifor Pharma.

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) affects an estimated 1% of children worldwide and more children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, juvenile diabetes and pediatric cancer combined. With a wealth of knowledge and research findings related to ASD emerging every year, it has been hard to take these findings from the bench to the clinic.

Robert Ring, Vice President of Translational Research for Autism Speaks said: "The lack of effective pharmacological treatments for ASD has a profound effect on patients' lives. We are excited that with this unique collaboration we may see a real shift in future treatment for this devastating disorder."

EU-AIMS will focus on three areas: the development and validation of translational research approaches for the advancement of novel therapies for ASD; the identification, alignment, and development of expert clinical sites across Europe to run clinical trials; and the creation of an interactive platform for ASD professionals and patients.

By the end of the project, EU-AIMS expects to provide novel validated cellular assays, animal models, new fMRI methods with dedicated analysis techniques, new PET radioligands, as well as new genetic and proteomic biomarkers for patient-segmentation or individual response prediction. It aims to establish a research network that can then move on to testing the investigational treatments in humans.

King's College London leads an academic partnership of 14 European centres of excellence comprising Biozentrum Universitt Basel (Switzerland), Birkbeck College, University of London (UK), Cambridge University (UK), Central Institute of Mental Health Mannheim (Germany), Commissariat l'Energie Atomique et Aux Alternatives (France), the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (Germany), Institut Pasteur (France), Institute of Education (UK), Karolinska Institute (Sweden), Max-Planck Institute of Experimental Medicine (Germany), Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre (The Netherlands), University "Campus Bio-Medico" (Italy), University Medical Centre (The Netherlands) and University Ulm (Germany).

Two other pharmaceutical small and medium-sized enterprises (SME): deCode Genetics (Iceland) and NeuroSearch (Denmark) will contribute to the success of EU-AIMS, while the SME GABO:mi (Germany) will be managing the project.

Professor Declan Murphy, King's College London said: "This ground-breaking integrated research effort is unprecedented and is designed to allow us to change the scientific landscape of autism research and clinical drug development throughout Europe."

Luca Santarelli, Global Head of Roche Neurosciences said: "This collaborative effort is in full alignment with Roche Neurosciences strategy which is to develop personalized treatment options for serious patient needs." Will Spooren, Project Coordinator of EU-AIMS and group leader Behavioral Pharmacology at Roche Neuroscience, added: "Recent genomic and functional studies have shed light on the pathophysiology of autism. We need to work together if we want to fully harness those developments and pave the way for new treatment options which would cluster ASD patients sharing common pathophysiological features."

The research of EU-AIMS receives support from the Innovative Medicines Initiative Joint Undertaking under grant agreement n 115300, resources of which are composed of financial contribution from the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013), from the EFPIA companies' in kind contribution and from the Autism Speaks resulting in a total of USD $38.7 million.

Contact: Jane RUbinstein
Autism Speaks

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