Sirtris’ Westphal Enjoying Life Under GSK Ownership; Hints at Positive Human Data on Next-Gen Drugs to Extend Healthy Life (and Still Partying on Fridays)
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CW: GSK asked for my commitment for the longer term, and as part of the acquisition I gave up my forward vesting. I got the same deal for myself as I did for every employee at the company, even though my contract had a guaranteed full forward vesting. I thought it was important as a signal to GSK and to the employees to indicate that I was committed to making this company successful as part of GSK. [See Wade's post for more on Westphal's deal with GSK.]
X: What has changed about Sirtris’ drug pipeline?
CW: It’s broader—given that we have a lot more resources, and we’ve been fortunate to have positive clinical results with both SRT501, which is our formulation of resveratrol [a natural chemical with metabolic benefits, found in grapes and other foods], and with our new chemical entities [NCEs] that are 1,000 times more potent than resveratrol. We had very nice PK [pharmacokinetic] data and safety data, so we have very aggressive plans to do several phase II studies next year on our NCEs and progressing our compounds much more broadly into different indications. And we’re also much more focused on additional targets. So we’ve always articulated that SIRT3 [an enzyme linked to cellular health] was an interesting target to us. We are much more aggressively pursuing that than we were previously. So those are all things that would have been harder to do as an independent company.
X: When do you expect to reveal results of the Phase 2a for SRT501 in type 2 diabetes?
CW: We’ve kind of stuck with our timelines that we had as a public company. We’ve reported positive top-line data from our Phase 1b study at conferences, and we’re planning to publish a paper on those results. That’s in hundreds of patients with positive effects on glucose and insulin, and we hope to be able to publish those and have them come out in the next six months. The Phase IIa study of [SRT]501 in diabetics we hope to present initial data in the first half of next year. And then the human PK data on our 1,000-times-more-potent molecules, unrelated to resveratrol, we hope to [reveal] some of the preliminary data on October 22 at our Boston R&D conference.
X: What are the drawbacks of Big Pharma ownership?
CW: To date, I’ve got to say it’s been great. GSK has done everything it could have, and it’s been a fantastic experience. You know, we’re part of a bigger company. It’s normal when you’re part of a bigger company for some decisions to take more time.
X: How successful has Sirtris been in retaining its workers?
CW: It’s amazing. I think most every employee here feels the same as [Sirtris scientific founder] David Sinclair and I did, which is, if we’re right, it’s probably going to be the most important thing we do in our lives. We’re talking about potentially extending healthy human lifespan by 10 to 20 percent. If we’re right about the science, it’s pretty hard to imagine that we’ll ever work on anything as important. So that, combined with a personal commitment to GSK, which is a great partner, has led to very low turnover.
X: Does Sirtris still have happy hour for employees on Friday afternoons?