Past Pfizer autism unit chief to join major advocacy group

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The former head of Pfizer Inc.'s autism unit in Groton has landed a new job at Autism Speaks, the nation's leading advocacy group for people with the neurological disorder.

Robert H. Ring, previously a Pfizer senior director, will join Autism Speaks in Princeton, N.J., on June 1 in the newly created position of vice president of translational research. His focus will be on helping move drug experimentation from laboratories to clinical trials, "with the goal of improving outcomes for individuals with autism spectrum disorders," according to the nonprofit organization.

"Rob is a highly respected neuroscientist whose knowledge and experience in drug discovery will help accelerate and target the translational research we fund and ensure that those research dollars will have maximum impact," said Geraldine Dawson, the group's chief scientific officer and the person to whom Ring will report. "Autism Speaks is increasing its focus on translational research because of its real potential to provide new and more effective treatments."

Ring worked for a decade at Wyeth Pharmaceuticals before its merger with Pfizer two years ago. He served as head of mood disorders research at Wyeth, overseeing such research areas as depression and bipolar disorder, and headed up Pfizer's autism research unit from 2009 to this year.

Ring said Autism Speaks, which has committed more than $160 million to autism research and family resources since its inception six years ago, is at the forefront in funding and encouraging research that translates basic discoveries into usable medicines, moving science from bench to bedside. Only the antipsychotic Risperidone has been approved by U.S. regulators for treatment of autism, while many other medicines are currently used off label.

"I have had a longstanding commitment to discovering new treatments for people with autism," Ring said in a statement. "Now I have an opportunity to apply what I learned in industry to my work at Autism Speaks."

"The hire gives the advocacy group a direct link to the pharmaceutical industry just as drug companies are paying increased attention to the market potential for autism spectrum disorders," according to an article in the online site DisabilityScoop.

The autism unit that Ring once led is part of the neurological research team that is in the process of being moved from Groton to Cambridge, Mass., as Pfizer begins reducing its local workforce by 1,100 over the next year. It is unclear whether the unit itself will remain intact after the move, but Pfizer has said research into autism will continue.

Pfizer was the first pharmaceutical company to establish a research unit focused on developing medications for treating people with autism and related disorders.

Autism is a growing public-health threat, currently affecting one in every 110 children in the United States.

People with autism have difficulties in communication and establishing social connections.

l.howard@theday.com

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