PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s World Autism Awareness Day as currently one in 68 children have an autism spectrum disorder in the United States. There’s no drug yet to treat the core symptoms, but that could be changing.
A new drug being tested on children and teenagers who have autism is aimed at improving social interaction and communication.
Fifteen-year-old Marshall Scarpulla is one of three children in his family with autism. His mother, Alissa Scarpulla, noticed some of the signs when he was 3.
“He was having a speech delay and the school brought it to my attention, too,” said Scarpulla.
Now, researchers at Montefiore Medical Center are studying whether a first-of-its-kind drug could make a difference for children like Marshall.
“There are not any approved treatments for what we think of as the core symptoms of autism, so all of the social difficulties, repetitive behaviors and the ability to function in everyday life,” said Dr. Eric Hollander, the director of the Autism and Obsessive-Compulsive Spectrum Program at Montefiore Medical Center.
Marshall is part of a nationwide clinical trial which includes 300 children and teens with high-functioning autism.
Researchers are testing whether the drug called balovaptan can help autism symptoms by preventing a molecule, thought to influence social behavior, from binding to brain receptors.
Previous research on adults shows symptoms improved.
“There would still be need for speech or OT education, behavior treatments,” said Hollander.
Marshall’s family doesn’t know yet whether he received a placebo or the actual drug, but his mother says she’s seen a change in his behavior.
“Hopefully it gets approved and we’ll have a medicine for him,” said Scarpulla.
The drug is a possible breakthrough for autism and a chance for a fuller life.
The FDA has given the drug a breakthrough designation to speed up research and it’s currently targeted at high-function children and teens with autism because they can better communicate about their symptoms.