New autism drug improves empathy, social skills
Two studies showed a new molecular approach was capable of helping people with the disorder empathise with others.
Experts are hailing the outcomes of the drug trials because, so far, licenced medication for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) does not address core symptoms, such as problems with social communication and repetitive behaviours.
Scientists at Stanford University adopted the new approach having spotted that modulating the pathway of a hormone called vasopressin in animals could change their behaviour.
In a trial of 223 adult men with moderate or severe ASD, those who were given a high oral daily dose of a drug called balovaptan for 12 weeks displayed improvements in socialising, adaptive behaviour and daily living skills compared to those given a placebo.
Meanwhile 17 children between the ages of six and 12 were given high intranasal doses for four weeks.
Based on reports from the children’s parents, the authors found the children treated showed enhanced social behaviours compared to the 13 given a placebo. The treated children displayed improvements in social communication as evaluated by clinicians.
“They were also better able to interpret the emotional and mental states of others and recognize faces in laboratory tests – Vasopressin treatment also reduced other ASD symptoms such as anxiety and was well-tolerated by the subjects,” the authors wrote.
A final trial stage involving a larger number of patients is now necessary before the drug could be licensed for people with ASD, which affects a pproximately one in 60 children.
There is no cure for the disorder, however research is increasingly indicating that earlier therapy in the form of social and communication coaching can have a disproportionately beneficial effect.
An analysis by the University of California, San Diego, published last week, indicated children could be reliably diagnosed with ASD from shortly after the age of one.
The new studies are published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.