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Small biotech company is creating a buzz with a diabetes drug that incorporates a component found in red wine. Pharm Exec talks to Sirtris CEO Christoph Westphal about the merger and the battle against diseases of aging.
Last week, GlaxoSmithKline paid $720 million in cash for Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, a company that is gaining a lot of publicity for what is being called "the red wine drug."
The biotech's lead therapy is SRT501, a compound based on resveratrol, a natural product found in food products such as red wine. Resveratrol is thought to affect the action of a group of enzymes called sirtuins, which are linked to aging and cell death.
SRT501 activates SIRT1, an aging-related sirtuin. In doing so, it mimics the effects of exercising, producing more mitochondria, boosting metabolism, and reducing glucose and insulin levels in Type II diabetes.
The company is currently considering seven sirtuin-based products.
"Because we are a small biotech company, we decided early on to focus in on Type II diabetes," said John Lacey, associate director of corporate communications for Sirtris. "We know that SIRT1 has other indications that we could go after."
Two Phase I studies have been completed and both studies showed a lowering of glucose following an oral glucose tolerance test. The drug has shown to be safe in early trials with no adverse events. Other indications are in the works for mitochondrial disorders and oncology.
"We are a company focused on diseases of aging," said Christoph Westphal, CEO of Sirtris. "We have the potential of targeting the genes that control the aging process and to develop drugs to treat diseases of aging, which are the major killers of Western society—diabetes, Alzheimer's, cancer. This opportunity is enormous, the markets are very large and the potential to improve patients' lives is extraordinary."
According to Westphal, the only change at Sirtris will be to take the company off the public market. He will continue to run the day-to-day operations of the company.