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Christoph Westphal, Sirtris


Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical ExecutivePharmaceutical Executive-06-01-2008
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Christoph Westphal

CEO, Vice Chairman, Sirtris

TRACK RECORD: Co-founded Alnylam, Momenta, Acceleron, and Sirtris, among others

MOST RECENT COUP: Sold Sirtris to GSK for $720 million

Until recently, Christoph Westphal, MD, made a point of always working close enough to home for him to walk. Given the nature of his career, that means he lives surrounded by the companies he helped create.

Christoph Westphal

"In Cambridge, these companies are within a few miles of each other," he explains. "Now Sirtris has 65 employees, and there are about 175 at each Alnylam and Momenta. It's interesting to think that six years ago, those companies were just one post-doc working at MIT or Harvard."

Westphal, 40, did much of his company building as a partner at Polaris Venture Partners, where he worked from 2000 to 2005. But in 2004, he met up with Harvard's David Sinclair, the man who would coax him into a deeper involvement in pharma. While investigating why those subjected to very low calorie diets live longer, Sinclair had learned that a class of enzymes called sirtuins seemed to be involved in the process. At last, aging, a process that had always seemed impossibly complex, looked downright druggable.

The company that came out of the collaboration, Sirtris, quickly attracted investors. Last April, GSK came calling with a tender offer featuring a premium of 84 percent on Sirtris' shares.

"We've shown that our drugs extend life in animals by 10 to 20 percent—all of western medicine has probably extended healthy life by 5 percent," says Westphal, who plans to continue with Sirtris. "I pinch myself every morning; I am so fortunate to play a role in these important advances."

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