An international coalition of pharmaceutical companies, universities, and advocacy organizations aims to discover new drugs to battle autism spectrum disorder, a collection of conditions affecting social interaction and communication. The project known as European Autism Interventions: A Multicentre Study for Developing New Medications (EU-AIMS) is considered the largest single grant for autism research in the world and the largest for the study of any mental health disorder in Europe.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is the name given to a complex developmental disability covering conditions such as classic autism and asperger syndrome that cause problems with social interaction and communication. Symptoms of ASD can start before age three and can cause delays or problems in many different skills that develop from infancy to adulthood. Indicators of ASD include inability to develop verbal or non-verbal communication (e.g., eye contact), difficulty in sharing emotions or understanding how others think or feel, and obsessively following routines or repetitive behaviors like repeating words or actions. The advocacy organization Autism Speaks estimates about 1 percent of children have ASD in some form.
The five-year, $US38.7 million project is expected to speed the development and validation of translational research processes to advance new therapies for ASD. The research aims to deliver new medical tests and biomarkers to help identify subtypes of autism that in turn can help predict how a particular patient is likely to respond to a medicine or other treatment. Researchers in the project plan as well to identify or develop expert sites across Europe for clinical trials, and create an interactive platform for ASD professionals and patients.
Funding for the project comes from grant by the Innovative Medicines Initiative, a joint undertaking of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industry Associations (EFPIA) and the European Union. The grant itself is composed of financial and in-kind contributions from EFPIA members led by Roche, and including Eli Lilly, Servier, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Pfizer, and Vifor Pharma. Two smaller companies — deCode Genetics in Iceland and NeuroSearch in Denmark — will also take part. Austism Speaks will provide $1 million of the funding.
King’s College London leads the 14 university and research institute participants in the project that include Biozentrum Universität Basel (Switzerland), Birkbeck College at University of London (U.K.), Cambridge University (U.K.), Central Institute of Mental Health Mannheim (Germany), Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique et Aux Alternatives (France), the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (Germany), Institut Pasteur (France), Institute of Education (U.K.), 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).
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