Roche has linked up with the USA's Seaside Therapeutics to develop treatments for autism spectrum disorders and fragile X syndrome.

Noting that there are no current treatment drugs for these neurodevelopment disorders that address core symptoms, the Swiss major says the alliance aims to speed up R&D in this field and "lead a fundamental change in the treatment paradigm for FXS and ASD". The most commonly inherited form of autism involves the gene encoding fragile X mental retardation protein (FMRP) and disfunction of the latter disrupts signalling between neurons.

Normally, FMRP is balanced by mGluR5, an important receptor in the brain involved in learning and memory and without normal FMRP, this balance is lost, Roche noted, leaving mGluR5 function unopposed.

The deal, the financial terms for which were not disclosed, will see Seaside license patents covering the use of mGluR5 antagonists for the treatment of neurodevelopmental disorders exclusively to Roche, whose own mGluR5 drug candidate RG7090 is currently enrolling patients in a Phase II trial in FXS.

Also, Seaside will continue develop its GABA-B agonist programme, headed by  STX209, which is currently enrolling patients in Phase III trials in FXS and recently completed enrollment in a Phase IIb trial in ASD. Roche has the option to commercialise STX209.

Luca Santarelli, head of Roche Neuroscience, said that "recent discoveries in genetics have shed light on the biological underpinnings of these conditions thus providing a basis for mechanistic drug discovery". He added that "to establish a leadership position in this field we sought to build a solid partnership with Seaside, a company that has successfully pioneered the R&D in this novel and uncharted area".