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Autism Speaks, Simons & NIH Foundation Join to Fund Biomarker Research

September 19, 2014

Autism Speaks has teamed with the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI), the National Institute of Mental Health and the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health to speed the development of autism medicines through the recently formed “Consortium on Biomarker and Outcome Measures of Social Impairment for Use in Clinical Trials in Autism Spectrum Disorder.”

The goal of the collaborative is to identify and develop biological markers that researchers can use to measure the benefits of new and experimental medicines for treating autism.

Such biomarkers also promise to help researchers identify autism subtypes and develop personalized treatments based on the underlying biology of each individual’s “autism.”

“With the creation of this collaborative, the four major forces in autism research are combining resources to take on a key bottleneck for the advancement of autism treatments,” says Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Rob Ring.

The need for biomarkers
As in many fields of medical research, the advancement of new autism treatments has been slowed by a lack objective and commonly used measures of effectiveness, explains Paul Wang, Autism Speaks senior vice president and head of medical research.

“When studies use the same objective measures of effectiveness, researchers from different institutions will be better able to build on the results of each other’s studies,” Dr. Wang explains.

In addition, pharmaceutical companies must present clear and objective measures of benefit when they submit new medicines to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for review and market approval.

Research Grant Opportunity Announced
As its first action, the consortium has now released its first Request for Applications (RFA) from researchers interested in conducting autism biomarker research.

The goal is to identify biological measures, or “biomarkers,” that are both sensitive and reliable enough to measure the effects of experimental autism treatments moving through clinical trials.

More specifically, the consortium wants to fund a multi-site study that evaluates standardized, lab-based biomarkers of social impairment in school-age children with autism. These could include brain-wave studies such as electroencephalography (EEG) and eye-tracking measures that reflect social engagement.

All the information produced by the funded studies will be freely shared with the larger research community through the National Database for Autism Research (NDAR). In addition, funded researchers will collect DNA (blood) samples that will be added to the National Institute of Mental Health’s Repository and Genomics Resource for future research.

For more information on this research funding opportunity, click here.