Christoph Westphal, the CEO of biotech firm Sirtris, says that he and several of his colleagues are forming a new nonprofit group in the Boston area called the Healthy Lifespan Institute. The institute is being formed to research non-pharmaceutical measures that people can take to live longer and healthier lives and to educate people about the aging process, Westphal tells Xconomy.
While Sirtris, a Cambridge, MA, subsidiary of drug giant GlaxoSmithKline, is developing drugs to treat diseases of aging such as Type 2 diabetes and cancer, the new nonprofit group will be focused on educating people about the aging process and conducting human clinical studies into whether such interventions as reducing caloric intake or taking supplements like resveratrol will prolong healthy living. While the plant-derived resveratrol could be considered a pharmaceutical, depending on how it’s defined, a key to the potential life-extending measures of interest to the institute is that they are not traditional FDA-regulated therapeutics. The institute, which is due to officially launch within six months, is expected to be a separate entity from Sirtris. Though the nonprofit group will certainly be tapping the expertise of people affiliated with Sirtris to advance knowledge of the human aging process.
The past decade or so has been rife with discoveries about the biological underpinnings of how cells and organisms age. For example, studies show that animals such as mice and monkeys on low-calorie diets live longer than animals that eat more. Other animal studies indicate that the red wine chemical resveratrol can mimic the effects of calorie restriction to prolong life. Sirtris’ leadership in this field prompted London-based Glaxo to acquire the startup for $720 million in June 2008. Yet the pharmaceutical industry is primarily focused on developing new drugs for diseases. Aging isn’t considered a disease. So there’s a large need for “rigorous controlled studies” that show the effects of non-FDA regulated measures such as calorie restriction and resveratrol in humans, according to Westphal.
“It’s a pretty straightforward mission statement: to increase healthy lifespan,” Westphal said. “I think there are few people who would disagree with that, and I think it’s a very worthy mission.”
Westphal believes it will cost tens of millions of dollars to fund the human clinical studies that the institute plans to conduct, yet he says that the focus of the nonprofit effort right now is to bring together leaders in the science of aging. The other people involved in the Healthy Lifespan Institute include David Sinclair—the Harvard Medical School professor who co-founded Sirtris with Westphal and others—MIT biology professor and Sirtris scientific adviser … Next Page »