Cambridge, MA-based biotech firm Sirtris has garnered national and international attention for its work to use its formulation of resveratrol, a natural chemical found in red wine, to treat diseases of aging such as Type 2 diabetes and cancer. Now the company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of British drug giant GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK), plans to increase its focus on developing a more potent molecule to treat diabetes, according to CEO Christoph Westphal.
Westphal made a presentation of some new data from studies his biotech firm has conducted with the new chemical entities, or NCEs, at the Boston Biotech R&D conference the company hosted at Harvard Medical School yesterday. Sirtris says the new drugs are more than 1,000 times more potent than its formulation of resveratrol, dubbed SRT501. Westphal told me in an interview that his company plans to conduct Phase 2 clinical trials of a new molecule called SRT2104 as a treatment for diabetes next year. Meantime, the earlier form of resveratrol is being scrapped in diabetes, yet Westphal says the company plans to continue developing it to treat colon cancer and a rare metabolic disorder called MELAS.
“I think ultimately, from a pharmaceutical- company perspective, a patented, composition-of-matter compound that is 1,000 times more potent is going to be more attractive than reformulated resveratrol, so definitely our focus is more on the NCEs,” Westphal says.
The new drugs, like resveratrol, are designed to activate genes linked to the production of sirtuins, which have shown in early studies to increase metabolic function and essentially mimic the benefits of consuming fewer calories.
Sirtris presented basic findings from an early human study of the new chemical, revealing only that it was well-tolerated and caused no serious side effects in humans. Sirtris and GSK aren’t saying how well it works in treating diabetes in humans, says Michelle Dipp, Sirtris’ vice president of corporate development. (The company did highlight that the compound about doubled the lifespan of mice in a new study, however.)
In a related development, Westphal revealed publicly for the first time that the company plans to develop its new drugs to treat neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder. He says his company won’t necessarily get bigger in Cambridge, because GSK can do much of the clinical trials work at other research and development units around the world.
Westphal gave credit to his new pharma parent GSK—which acquired Sirtris in a $720 million buyout earlier this year—for providing his firm the resources to pursue more drug development programs. GSK recently approved a $200 million budget for its Sirtris unit for the next three years, which Westphal says is about twice as much as his company could have afforded to spend as an independent biotech.
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