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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Medications and Autism

With the diagnosis of autism on the rise and drug companies facing major setbacks in developing successful treatments, the University of California, Los Angeles will lead a $9 million effort financed by the National Institute of Mental Health to find effective drugs, officials said Wednesday.

Under a contract with the institute, U.C.L.A. will form a network of researchers at other academic centers that will try to identify promising new and older drug compounds quickly, and conduct early tests to see if they merit additional investment.
The program, part of the “Fast Fail” initiative at the institute, aims to determine within weeks whether a drug works, rather than the years it traditionally takes to evaluate a new drug.
Several major drug companies, including GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca, have scaled back their research in the neurosciences because of the high failure rate, Dr. McCracken said.
Developing drugs to treat neurological disorders is difficult, in part because brain science is still evolving. The field is littered with drugs that scientists had hoped would be effective against diseases like Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia but that performed poorly in clinical trials.
Despite the setbacks, scientific advances in understanding the genetic underpinnings of autism have accelerated, leaving the door open for new drug discoveries, said Robert H. Ring, vice president of translational research at Autism Speaks, a patient advocacy group.