Sirtris Touts Its Next Generation of Diabetes Drug Candidates, Massively More Powerful than its First

When I visited Cambridge-based Sirtris Pharmaceuticals a few weeks ago, CEO Christoph Westphal told me that the company would soon be publishing data on a new drug candidate that’s 1000 times as effective as the company’s lead compound—a diabetes drug—at activating a key gene called SIRT1. Those data are now out in this week’s issue of Nature. It turns out there are actually three new compounds, and Westphal says they “could unlock a new approach to treating Type 2 diabetes.”

Co-founded by David Sinclair, a pathologist at Harvard, Sirtris has staked its future on the idea that compounds that enhance the activity of a family of enzymes including SIRT1 make powerful drugs against diseases of aging such a diabetes and cancer. Sinclair’s research showed that resveratrol—a chemical found in red wine—is a SIRT1 activator that increases stamina and lifespan when fed to mice. Sirtris is currently testing a proprietary formulation of resveratrol in Phase 1B clinical trials, with results due out around the beginning of the new year, Westphal says.

The company has no plans to abandon resveratrol, according to Westphal, but the new compounds—which Sirtris found after screening thousands of small molecules—could prove to be much more potent. The Nature study showed they improved insulin sensitivity in obese mice, and even restored blood-glucose levels to near normal in mice that were fed high-fat diets. Sirtris plans to begin studies in the first half of 2008 to find the most effective doses of the new compounds in humans, according to Westphal.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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