Swiss drugmaker Roche plans to work with U.S. firm Seaside Therapeutics to develop treatments for autism spectrum disorders and fragile X syndrome that differ fundamentally from other methods by targeting their molecular basis.

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) include Asperger's syndrome and autism, with symptoms that range from social awkwardness and narrow interests to severe communication and intellectual disabilities.

Fragile X syndrome is a rare genetic disease with symptoms that are very similar to ASD.

Although treatments exist that alleviate the symptoms of these disorders, none targets the underlying causes.

The latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that as many as 1 in 88 children in the United States has autism, a near-doubling of the rate reported in 2002.

"Recent discoveries in genetics have shed light on the biological underpinnings of these conditions," said Luca Santarelli, head of Roche's neuroscience division.

"We sought to build a solid partnership with Seaside Therapeutics, a company that has successfully pioneered the research and development in this novel and uncharted area," Santarelli also said.

Seaside, a privately held firm based in Massachusetts that focuses on treatments for autism and related disorders, will license patents and Roche will then lead the development and commercialization of them, they said.