NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Monday is World Autism Day, and there was some hopeful news: A drug may ease some of the so-called core symptoms of autism.
Autism covers a broad range of symptoms and severity, which is why it is referred to as ASD, or Autism Spectrum Disorder.
The core symptoms, however, are common across the board: Repetitive behavior, restricted interests and impairments of social interaction and communication.
That’s what this drug may ease.
Marshall Scarpulla, 15, is one of three children in his family with autism. His mother noticed some of the signs when he was 3-years-old.
“He was having a speech delay like his brother, and the school brought it to my attention too,” said his mother Alissa Scarpulla.
Researchers at Montefiore Medical Center are studying whether a first-of-its kind drug could make a difference for kids 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 every day life,” said Dr. Eric Hollander of the 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 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.
The compound Balovaptan blocks is actually a hormone involved with blood pressure, but it’s now known to also impact behavior.
The FDA has given Balovaptan breakthrough therapy designation to speed its testing.
Hollander says the drug could be one piece of the puzzle.
“There would still be need for speech or OT educational, behavior treatments,” he said.
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,” Alissa said.
A possible breakthrough for autism, and a chance for a fuller life.