Report: Former Sirtris Execs Ordered to Stop Selling Resveratrol Dietary Supplement Online

8/13/10Follow @xconomy

[Updated: 12:03 pm Eastern] The former executives of Sirtris Pharmaceuticals have apparently gone off the resveratrol reservation.

GlaxoSmithKline, the U.K.-based pharmaceutical giant, has ordered Christoph Westphal and Michelle Dipp to stop online sales of their dietary supplement version of resveratrol through their nonprofit venture, according to a report in TheStreet.com. Glaxo called for an end to resveratrol sales online after the news of the online sales operation was first reported yesterday by Xconomy.

Westphal and Dipp, who are both senior executives at Glaxo, informed the parent company about their decision to start the Healthy Lifespan Institute, according to TheStreet article, but “GSK [Glaxo] was not aware that the Healthy Lifespan Institute was selling a resveratrol formulation on the Internet,” Glaxo spokeswoman Sarah Alspach said in an e-mailed statement cited by TheStreet. “The company has instructed the GSK employees to cease their association with this activity and Michelle Dipp and Christoph Westphal will be resigning their positions on the board of Healthy Lifespan,” Alspach told TheStreet.

GlaxoSmithKline has a huge stake in the control of its resveratrol asset. The company paid about $720 million to acquire Sirtris two years ago, and has invested millions more since then in its potential as a pharmaceutical treatment for diseases that people get as they age, like diabetes. The company’s pharmaceutical grade version of resveratrol hasn’t made it through the clinical trial process required to win FDA approval and start selling a drug in the U.S. But as a dietary supplement in a lower-dose form, resveratrol doesn’t have to pass any of that sort of regulatory scrutiny before it can reach the consumer masses. Dipp told Xconomy in the original story that Healthy Lifespan Institute was selling the supplement for $540 for a one-year supply, just to cover the costs of functions like manufacturing and distribution, not to make a profit.

[Updated: 12:03 pm Eastern]. Here are responses from GlaxoSmithKline spokeswoman Louise Dunn to our follow-up questions.

Xconomy: Did GSK senior management in fact order a halt to the sale of resveratrol supplements today after the Xconomy story appeared?

Louise Dunn: GSK has not instructed the Healthy Living Institute to do anything and has no authority to do so. However we have instructed the GSK employees involved with the HLA to cease their association with the organisation. Dipp and Westphal were on the Board on the HLI and were not directly involved in sales of products.

X. If so, why did GSK take such an action?

LD: GSK was not aware that the Health Lifespan Institute was selling a resveratrol formulation on the internet. We believe that there is a potential conflict if the same individuals are involved (however distantly and not for profit) in sales of nutritional supplements containing resveratrol at the same time as contributing to GSK’s efforts to generate novel specific and potent sirtuin-based prescription medicines for serious diseases associated with ageing.

X: Did Christoph and Michelle violate their employment agreements or the merger agreement by selling the SRT501 formulation as a dietary supplement, even if it was in a low-dose powder form?

LD: Michelle Dipp and Christoph Westphal are no longer involved with Healthy Lifespan. We can’t comment on their employment agreements or the merger agreement.

X: Will there be any disciplinary action taken?

LD: We don’t comment on internal matters.

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