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Unprecedented collaboration in autism research

Posted on 19/03/2012
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Patient organizations, academic and industry join forces to develop and assess novel treatment approaches for autism.

An international consortium of scientists, led by Roche and King’s College London, has launched one of the largest ever research academic-industry collaboration 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.  

EU-AIMS brings together top scientists from academic institutions with a wide range of expertise, and partners them with major global drug companies from the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industry Associations (EFPIA) including Roche, Eli Lilly, Servier, Janssen Pharmaceutica, Pfizer and Vifor Pharma; as well as world leading autism charities including Autism Speaks (USA).

King’s College London leads an academic partnership of 14 European centres of excellence comprising Biozentrum, University of Basel (Switzerland), Birkbeck, University of London (UK), Cambridge University (UK), 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 (UK), Karolinska Institutet (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.”

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 five-year 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.

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 €29.6 million.  

The project is part of the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), Europe's largest public-private initiative aiming to speed up the development of better and safer medicines for patients. IMI supports collaborative research projects and builds networks of industrial and academic experts in order to boost pharmaceutical innovation in Europe.

For more information, please contact Louise Pratt, Institute of Psychiatry, email: louise.a.pratt@kcl.ac.uk or tel: 0207 848 5378

 

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