Pfizer Joins Academic-Industry Collaboration for Autism Drug Discovery
Pfizer is one of the key partners in a newly launched international consortium of scientists that represents one of the largest ever academic-industry research collaborations aimed at finding new methods for the development of drugs for autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).
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.
Colleagues from Pfizer's Neuroscience Research Unit (RU) and Precision Medicine groups, led by Daniel Smith, Senior Principal Scientist in the Autism and Neurodevelopment Lab, will contribute critical drug discovery and development expertise to the EU-AIMS consortium. EU-AIMS is being led by Roche and King's College London, who oversees an academic partnership of 14 European centers of excellence, and will be supported by leading autism charities including Autism Speaks .
Pfizer Contributes Knowledge, Technical Skills
According to Nick Brandon, Head of Psychiatry and Behavioral Disorders, Neuroscience Research Unit, Pfizer colleagues will bring a vital knowledge base and technical skills that will guide EU-AIMS projects focused on developing pre-clinical models of autism based on human genetics, autism biomarkers and translational functional neuroimaging techniques, and robust efficacy endpoints for autism clinical trials.
"The ultimate goal is to align with the EU-AIMS partners to develop technologies and protocols that clearly define a path from early drug discovery through late-stage clinical testing, and to facilitate the development of medications to treat ASDs," Brandon said. "The nature of the collaboration across pharma, academia and advocacy groups makes this an even more exciting initiative."
Michael Ehlers, Chief Scientific Officer for Neuroscience at Pfizer shared that enthusiasm. "With the launch of the IMI-AIMS consortia, this is an incredibly exciting time in the field of autism drug discovery and in Pfizer's Autism Research group," he said. "This will allow Pfizer Neuroscience to partner collaboratively across a range of research projects of critical importance for the advancement of therapies in a field where options for families are far too limited."
Establishing a Research Network
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.
The research of EU-AIMS receives support from the Innovative Medicines Initiative , the largest public-private partnership in the area of medicine. IMI focuses on reducing bottlenecks in biomedical R&D and is organized around four pillars: efficacy, safety, knowledge management and education & training.
"With the increasing costs and productivity challenges associated with drug discovery, IMI is a very good example of how we can share resources and funding with other large pharmaceutical companies, academia and not-for-profits to achieve each project's specific aims and accelerate the drug discovery process," said Kelly Longo, WRD Business Development, who noted that Pfizer has been an IMI member since 2008 and is currently involved in 18 IMI projects, including the NEWMEDS  consortia for schizophrenia and depression therapeutics.
Brandon elaborated: "What is so powerful about the IMI approach, as we have seen firsthand with NEWMEDS, is that the collaboration will engage these disorders holistically; from identifying novel targets, developing better models (iPS cells, human genetic-based rodent models) through to the identification and implementation of novel translational and clinical end-points."
Lack of Treatments
ASD affects an estimated 1 percent 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."
Click here  to read the press release announcing EU-AIMS.