Christoph Westphal Resigns as Sirtris CEO, Takes Over Glaxo’s SR One Venture Arm

4/21/10

Christoph Westphal is leaving his CEO job at Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, the Cambridge, MA-based developer of drugs that target genes linked to the aging process, to get back into the venture capital game, according to an e-mail Westphal sent to friends and colleagues as well as Xconomy.

Westphal says in his note that he is taking over as head of SR One, Glaxo’s venture capital arm. He’s also working with fellow Sirtris alumni Michelle Dipp and Rich Aldrich on a new Boston venture firm, Longwood Founders Fund, according to the note. (Last week the Boston Globe reported that Glaxo is backing Longwood Founders Fund, which appeared on our radar back in February.)

Still, Westphal isn’t relinquishing all of his ties to Sirtris, which Glaxo bought in May 2008 for more than $700 million. He is going to be keeping a close eye on the advancement of Sirtris’s drugs for diseases of aging as co-chair of the Sirtris scientific advisory board. George Vlasuk, who was named president of Sirtris last year and has been in charge of its day-to-day operations, will replace Westphal as the firm’s CEO, according to Westphal’s e-mail.

Westphal’s career move could be viewed as a return to his roots in the life sciences industry. He first joined Sirtris as a co-founder and interim CEO in 2004, while he was a general partner at Polaris Venture Partners in Waltham, MA. (He eventually left Polaris to lead Sirtris full-time.) During his days as a venture capitalist at Polaris, he was a founder of other high-profile biotech firms in the Boston area such as Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ALNY), Momenta Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:MNTA), and Acceleron Pharma.

Glaxo is now giving Westphal the keys to its own corporate venture fund, at a moment of big change at SR One. Westphal is becoming president of the fund, taking over the responsibilities previously held by Russell Greig, a 30-year Glaxo veteran. Greig left SR One last month, according to this report by the In Vivo Blog. That departure created an opening at the exact moment when corporate VC arms are gaining prominence as traditional venture firms falter, In Vivo noted.

The SR One position can be one of the plum jobs in biotech venture investing. According to the SR One website, the firm operates as an independent unit of GSK and has invested $600 million since 1985. The fund invests in companies all over the world, and some of its portfolio companies in the Boston area include Aileron Therapeutics, Genocea Biosciences, and Concert Pharmaceuticals.

[Disclosure: Xconomy's brand new life sciences columnist, Sylvia Pagán Westphal, is married to Christoph Westphal. Sylvia had no involvement in this story, we swear!]

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