In what’s being billed as the largest single autism research investment ever, academics, advocates and drugmakers are teaming up in an effort to develop medications to treat the disorder.

The $38.7 million effort is being spearheaded by Autism Speaks, King’s College London and Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche. Other drugmakers on board include Eli Lilly, Servier, Janssen Pharmaceutica, Pfizer and Vifor Pharma.

Over five years, organizers of the Europe-based initiative say they hope to make major strides toward developing drugs specifically to treat autism.

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Currently, a handful of medications are federally approved to treat symptoms of the disorder, but no drug addresses the core features of autism itself.

“The lack of effective pharmacological treatments for ASD has a profound effect on patients’ lives,” said Robert Ring, Autism Speaks’ vice president of translational research, in a statement announcing the new effort.

“We are excited that with this unique collaboration we may see a real shift in future treatment for this devastating disorder,” added Ring, who served as head of Pfizer’s autism research unit before joining Autism Speaks last year.

Specifically, the new initiative known as European Autism Interventions — A Multicentre Study for Developing New Medications, is expected to help establish research databases in Europe that are compatible with those in the United States.

Additionally, organizers said they plan to create a clinical trial network so that new treatments can be tested on individuals with autism.

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