Sirtris Vet Michelle Dipp Takes Over Key Role at Glaxo as Westphal Returns to VC

4/22/10

From the moment GlaxoSmithKline acquired Cambridge, MA-based Sirtris Pharmaceuticals about two years ago for $720 million, the pharma giant said it wanted two of Sirtris’ principals, Christoph Westphal and Michelle Dipp, to help it connect with some of the best people and biotech ideas in Boston. That’s still true today, although the specific roles for Dipp and Westphal are shifting in a couple important ways.

Yesterday Xconomy broke the news that Westphal is ending his six-year tenure as CEO of Sirtris, the Cambridge, MA-based developer of drugs for diseases of aging, to take the helm at Glaxo’s venture capital firm, SR One. Yet Westphal is also resigning from his job as senior vice president of Glaxo’s Center of Excellence for External Drug Discovery (CEEDD). Dipp is now being promoted to take on that big job, which involves identifying and managing partnerships with biotechs who can help fill up Glaxo’s drug pipeline. Dipp, who had been the U.S. head of the center serving as a deputy to Westphal, is now in charge of the center’s U.S. and U.K. operations, as Westphal had been.

If you’re older than 30 and still living at home, don’t read the rest of this story. Dipp, who is in Theo Epstein-wunderkind territory at the age of 33, is now the youngest senior vice president at one of the the top 10 largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. She’s in charge of the external drug discovery unit that Glaxo created in 2005.The Glaxo business unit has gained more influence over biotech companies in recent years because of the limited availability of venture capital for young startups, making the cash the young firms can bring in from option-based deals with drug companies a viable way to stay afloat. A good example of one of these deals is the partnership Glaxo formed last year with Lexington, MA-based Concert Pharmaceuticals. Dipp says her group oversees about a dozen such partnerships in all.

Dipp, who has an MD and a PhD in pulmonary physiology from the University of Oxford, found her way into the business side of biotech quickly. She struck an important deal early in her career by becoming an early investor in Sirtris while she was a member of the investment team at the Wellcome Trust, a London-based nonprofit that is the world’s second-biggest funder of medical research. At the Wellcome Trust, she got to know Westphal, who recruited her to join then Sirtris as one of its founding employees in 2005.

But Dipp and Westphal have more on their plate than just what they are doing at GlaxoSmithKline. They, along with fellow Sirtris co-founder Rich Aldrich, are launching … Next Page »

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