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Meet Joseph Horrigan, MD, Autism Speaks’ New Assistant Vice President of Medical Research

October 28, 2011 9 comments

Posted by Joseph Horrigan, MD, Autism Speaks assistant vice president of medical research.

In introducing myself to the wider Autism Speaks community, I’d like to start by conveying how thrilled I am to be part of its mission. It’s an exciting time for autism research, especially when it comes to finding  new treatments for autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).

Today, we know so much more about the biological mechanisms behind ASDs than we did just a few years ago. We are now poised to make a big leap forward in the development of new medicines and therapies that address the core symptoms. I’m so grateful to be part of an organization that’s leading the charge.

I came to Autism Speaks after almost ten years helping pharmaceutical companies such as GlaxoSmithKline develop clinical trials for safely and effectively testing pediatric drugs for conditions such as bipolar disorder, attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). I have also led clinical programs testing new medicines for chronic diseases such as  multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and schizophrenia. These experiences have given me valuable insights into the process behind bringing new medicines through the clinical trial process and into the hands of doctors.

Above all, however, I see myself as a physician. As a child psychiatrist, I care for people who face complicated clinical challenges. Since 1992, I have consulted at a residential treatment facility for children, which I continue to do on a pro bono basis. About a third of the youngsters I care for have ASDs, and I have always loved working with them. Their families are so motivated and passionate, and I enjoy the partnership of working with them, often shoulder to shoulder, to optimize treatment and outcomes.

And I’m most satisfied when we can craft a treatment program that fits a child’s unique needs. I’ll admit, it’s seldom an easy task—given the complexity of ASDs.

As a parent of two children who have experienced significant illnesses, I feel particular empathy for the distress family members feel when treatments fail to provide adequate relief for their loved ones. This inadequacy redoubles my passion for expanding and improving the treatment options available for ASDs. Working with Geri Dawson, Rob Ring and the many passionate scientists at Autism Speaks, I truly believe we will make tremendous progress in the years ahead.

In the last five years, we have greatly advanced our understanding of the underlying biological mechanisms of ASDs. Scientists have not only identified genetic changes associated with autism, but have gone far in understanding how these changes affect the internal workings of brain cells as well as brain development. Such insights open the door to the discovery and development of safe and effective new medicines and other interventions.

Five years from now, I anticipate seeing the many tangible ways that all of us at Autism Speaks—including our families, friends, donors, and volunteers—have helped accelerate the development of better medicines and other tools that truly improve the lives of those on the autism spectrum.

I’ve been following Autism Speaks since its genesis in 2005, and I can’t think of a better team of people for the job. I’m honored to be on the same team with you all. Let’s get started!

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