Roche headlines autism alliance

A European research effort led by Roche ($RHHBY) and others to tackle autism spectrum disorders nailed down $38.7 million in financing for what will be a massive, 5-year project seeking to come up with new diagnostic and treatment options.

According to Genetic Engineering News, Eli Lilly ($LLY), Servier, Janssen Pharmaceutica and Pfizer ($PFE) are among other bio and pharma partners in the substantial collaboration. But Roche is leading the drug-company side of things. King's College London in the U.K. and the non-profit organization Autism Speaks are the other head partners. Add in about 14 additional "scientific centers," and you have lots of parties working on autism research.

Roche's involvement is interesting because it has a relatively targeted focus on Alzheimer's. The Swiss drugmaker launched a Phase II study two years ago of a drug to treat Fragile X syndrome, a rare genetic condition thought to be among the most common causes of autism. But the company has more drugs in the pipeline, by comparison, for neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's and schizophrenia, according to its web site.

The collaboration will focus on developing and testing new autism treatments, according to the story. But the consortium also plans to pick and launch multiple autism clinical trial sites throughout Europe, pursue a number of lab and animal tests and identify genetic or proteomic biomarkers to aid in more precise diagnoses and treatments. They face the challenging reality, however, that autism remains hard both to diagnose and to successfully treat.

This massive partnership even has a name: European Autism Interventions--A Multicenter Study for Developing New Medicines, or EU--AIMS, for short. The European Union's Seventh Framework Program, Autism Speaks and the members of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Association funded the program, according to the story.

- here's the Genetic Engineering News story
- read the release