Roche, Seaside join forces against autism and Fragile X

Roche has tapped assets from biotech startup Seaside Therapeutics to advance pioneering treatments for Fragile X syndrome and autism spectrum disorders. And the pact provides Seaside with resources from a Big Pharma partner to advance its own Fragile X and autism candidate, STX209, in late- and mid-stage trials.  

In the new collaboration, Seaside has licensed to Roche ($RHHBY) a lineup of experimental agonists targeting mGluR5, a brain receptor implicated in both the inherited disorder Fragile X and the intellectual ailment autism, which could lead to new drugs against the core symptoms of the diseases. No such drugs are now available. Roche, which already has a mGluR5 drug in Phase II development, is heading development of the compounds involved in the deal. And Cambridge, MA-based Seaside will keep full rights and handle development of its GABA-B agonist STX209. Roche has options to license that candidate as well.

For Seaside, the Roche alliance appears to validate the company's focus on mysterious diseases, such as autism. The companies didn't reveal financial terms of the deal. Seaside has shied away from traditional venture financing and gained support for its research from a family investment outfit called the Barony Trust. Many traditional backers of biotech has shunned such risky bets, particularly in diseases such as autism that have unknown causes. Roche, however, sees the science around these disorders catching up with the huge need for new treatments. A whopping one in 88 children in the U.S. tested in a 2008 study had autism spectrum disorders.

"Roche is committed to finding new treatments in areas of high unmet medical need such as autism spectrum disorders," Luca Santarelli, global head of Roche Neuroscience, said in a statement. "Recent discoveries in genetics have shed light on the biological underpinnings of these conditions thus providing a basis for mechanistic drug discovery. To establish a leadership position in this field we sought to build a solid partnership with Seaside Therapeutics, a company that has successfully pioneered the research and development in this novel and uncharted area."

- here's the release

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