by Chief Science Officer of Autism Speaks, Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D.
I often get the question: How is the research we are funding on single gene disorders, such as Fragile X, relevant to the larger population of individuals with ASD? My answer is that, although autism has many different causes – including single gene mutations, multiple genetic factors, and even environmental factors – it is likely that these causes affect common underlying biological pathways. By studying the “simpler” single gene disorders, especially by studying animal models of these disorders, we can discover these pathways and develop medications that hopefully can help restore the functioning of these pathways.
As you will see in the press release, this strategy is being implemented by Seaside Therapeutics. With the help of funding from Autism Speaks and NIH, Mark Bear and other scientists developed an animal model for Fragile X and discovered that glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter, is affected by the Fragile X mutation. An overabundance of glutamate is interfering with the ability of neurons to communicate with each other (synaptic functioning). SeasideTherapeutics then tested a medicine, STX209 (arbaclofen), which helps to restore normal synaptic functioning, in a clinical trial with people with Fragile X. They found encouraging results! The next step, which was launched yesterday, is to test the efficacy of STX209 in individuals with ASD. The hope is that this medicine will improve social behavior and reduce irritability (e.g. aggression, tantrums) in people with ASD.
In the press release Randall L. Carpenter, M.D., President and Chief Executive Officer of Seaside Therapeutics says, “In our open-label Phase 2a study of STX209, we observed significant improvements in social impairment—a core symptom of autism spectrum disorders—including symptoms such as preference to be alone, being withdrawn or isolated, and lack of social reactivity. We are spearheading late-stage development of a drug candidate that has the potential to change the treatment paradigm for autism spectrum disorders—addressing core symptoms—and are truly excited about the prospect of helping patients and their families achieve an improved quality of life.”
Arbaclofen acts by stimulating the release of GABA in the brain. To make an simplified analogy, if we think of glutamate as the accelerator pedal in brain, then GABA is the brake pedal. By reducing glutamate through stimulating GABA receptors, the first clinical trial with people who have Fragile X syndrome demonstrated positive effects on behavior.
In Phase 2b of the trial, 25 sites will conduct a randomized, placebo-controlled trial of arbaclofen, enrolling 150 people with ASD for a total duration of treatment of 12 weeks. For more information about the clinical trial visit www.clinicaltrials.gov.
We will be sure to keep you informed as this study and other translational research progresses!