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The Magic Pill: A New Drug That Mimics Healthy Lifestyle Effects

Posted: Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The magic ingredient in wine is being studied to reduce the effects of diabetes and aging. 

A small Cambridge, Mass., startup is betting it can mimic the healthful benefits of diet and exercise with a pill, an entrancing possibility that has earned Sirtris Pharmaceuticals a ton of press coverage in the past few years.

But the Sirtris strategy is just as risky as any of the other early-stage drug development work being showcased this week at the 26th Annual JPMorgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco. One of the first to point this out is Sirtris co-founder and chief executive Christoph Westphal.

So far, though, Westphal and his colleagues are seeing their theories play out as they had hoped in their first trials in human beings. In a small study announced at the conference Monday, Sirtris' experimental drug SRT501 seemed to reduce blood sugar levels in subjects with Type 2 diabetes. The compound is designed to activate the same cellular mechanisms that respond to exercise or a reduced-calorie diet. These health habits not only help diabetics control their disease, but also are linked to a longer lifespan in many animals.

 
Much larger and longer studies will be needed before any Sirtris drug reaches the market, but results like the company's new data help biotech companies keep investors interested and attract the waves of financing they need to fund those years of research.
Westphal said Sirtris could eventually become a multibillion-dollar company by following the trail of clues that started with the discovery that red wine and other foods contained a class of compounds that could dramatically extend the lives of cells. Sirtris tinkered with one of those compounds, resveratrol, to produce the more stable and active version it calls SRT501. The idea was to see whether such compounds could prevent diseases of aging, such as diabetes.

The small-molecule drug activates one of a class of enzymes called the sirtuins, which control the aging process. The company also has developed much more powerful enzyme activators that work by a similar route, and some of these will follow SRT501 into clinical trials this year. Although Sirtris is now focusing on diabetes, the experimental drugs also will be tested in other diseases of aging, such as cancer.

But the company isn't encouraging people to look forward to the day when they can throw away their jogging shoes, gobble junk food and take a pill to erase the consequences. Westphal said Sirtris' drugs are designed to help people whose illnesses are too severe to be managed by a healthy lifestyle alone.

"Our goal is not to have people sit on their couches and eat anything they want," he said.

Source: Diabetes In Control

 
 
 
 
 
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