Autism Speaks Launches U.K. Campaign


Affiliate Organization Welcomes U.S. Leadership; Hosts Reception at Parliament


Over 150 people attended the launch of Autism Speaks in the United Kingdom March 9, 2006, at the Houses of Parliament. The reception was hosted by Liz Blackman, MP and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Autism. The principal guest speaker was the Health Minister Liam Byrne. (Click here to see a photo gallery from the event).

The event was supported by leading figures from the medical research community and by other leading charities engaged in supporting all those affected by autism, including the National Autistic Society. Also present were families affected by autism who are supporting the campaign and representatives of government departments. Mark Roithmayr, president of Autism Speaks and Glenn Tringali, executive vice president, travelled from America for the event. Many of those who attended have personal experience of autism, either as parents or carers of those affected or in their professional lives.

The reception and visit coincided with the launch of a new campaign in the United Kingdown to provide an answer to one of medicine's most baffling questions: What causes autism?

The campaign is spearheaded by Autism Speaks, which has set itself the task of more than doubling the investment in research into the causes of the whole spectrum of conditions which are believed to affect more than 500,000 people in the U.K. The campaign's supporters believe that recent advances particularly in genetics and neuroscience have brought the answer closer. The campaign has set a ten-year target to achieve a break-through in identifying the causes.

The start point for the campaign is that the current low level of funding for biomedical research into autism does not reflect either the human or economic cost which the condition imposes. Less than 2 million pounds, or roughly $3.5 million, per year from all sources is currently allocated to such work. It attracts less than 0.5 percent of state medical research funding in the U.K. This compares with the much larger sums allocated to studies into conditions with a much lower incidence and much less severe social consequences.

As a first step, the campaign will seek to increase the level of public debate and awareness about the condition. It will also put the case for more investment on the grounds that relevant disciplines such as genetics and neuroscience have recently reached a point where extra investment is likely to yield really substantial results.

Autism Speaks in the U.K. is an affiliate of the recently established project in the U.S. of the same name which was itself a merger of the two biggest American charities concerned with causal research. These charities have already invested more than 20 million pounds, or nearly $35 million, into biomedical autism research. The link with the American organization means that researchers in the U.K. will now have greater access to funding from the US.

The British campaign is the initiative of Dame Stephanie Shirley, the information technology entrepreneur who has committed 35 million pounds, or in excess of $60 million, more than any other individual in the world, into research into the causes and treatment of autism. Dame Stephanie said: "We need to spend more money on basic research because any significant improvement in treatment of the condition really depends on our knowing more about its causes."

Autism Speaks' U.K. Chief Executive Hilary Gilfoy points out that there is now a strong consensus amongst the medical research community that autism is genetic in origin. "Recent research discoveries mean that we are making huge strides in both understanding our genetic make-up and how the brain works and it is in these areas that we expect to find the truth about the causes of autism," she said. "Developments like the mapping of the human genome mean that every pound invested in research now will bring proportionately much greater benefits.'

The ultimate objective of the campaign is to develop more effective educational, social and medical responses to a condition which at present costs an average of 3 million pounds, or more than $5 million, over the lifetime of each U.K. individual affected.

More immediately, Autism Speaks will encourage co-ordination of causal research around the world to ensure that global efforts are more effective.

For further information contact:

Hilary Gilfoy, Autism Speaks
01491 614509/07973 224240
hilary.gilfoy@autismspeaks.org.uk

Michelle de Leo, LLM Communications
020 7269 9312/07734 101086
michelle@llm.co.uk