Sirtris Anti-Aging Drug Generates Buzz, But May Already Be Old News

Cambridge, MA-based Sirtris Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: SIRT) generated a flurry of media coverage, and a moderate stock gain, this week after announcing the first evidence that its formulation of resveratrol, a naturally occurring anti-aging substance found in red wine, helps to control symptoms of diabetes in humans. But it’s unclear that the study results—which were not reported in a peer-reviewed forum—will have much impact on the company’s future.

Sirtris reported at a JPMorgan health care conference in San Francisco yesterday that a preliminary “Phase 1b” safety trial, conducted on 98 Type 2 diabetes sufferers in India who had taken no previous drugs for diabetes, demonstrated that the company’s drug, called SRT501, had no serious side effects. After four weeks, the company said, patients who received the drug had an increased tolerance for glucose (that is, their bodies controlled glucose levels more effectively than before).

Phase 1 trials are not typically designed, however, to test how well a drug works. They’re usually conducted on healthy volunteers, and are merely intended to assess whether a drug is safe and well-tolerated at various doses, whether it accumulates in the bloodstream, and the like. Sirtris’s trial was somewhat unusual in that the participants were actual diabetes patients, but evidence of the drug’s effectiveness, at this stage, would have little effect on the drug’s chances for eventual regulatory approval—assuming that Sirtris intends to carry SRT501 through to commercialization, which it may not.

Sirtris designed SRT501 to be absorbed by the body more readily than pure resveratrol (which doesn’t show up at therapeutic levels in red wine, by the way, no matter how much you might attempt to drink). But as we reported in November, resveratrol derivatives are rapidly being overshadowed inside Sirtris by unrelated compounds with more power to activate SIRT1, the key gene that’s thought to be involved in the metabolic pathways that regulate aging and that seem to be out of whack in people with aging-related diseases such as diabetes and obesity. In a November Nature paper, Sirtris reported that three such compounds, called SRT1460, SRT1720, and SRT2183, are up to 1000 times as effective at activating SIRT1 as SRT501. CEO Christoph Westphal says the company plans to begin safety studies of the new compounds in the first half of this year.

Sirtris’s stock was hovering around $14.10 on the NASDAQ this morning, up roughly 7 percent over Monday’s price.

UPDATE 3:20 pm, 1/8/08: I spoke this afternoon with a Sirtris representative who emphasized that the company has never said that it will push aside testing and commercialization of SRT501. In fact, the company sees the compound as a potential treatment for MELAS (a rare mitochondrial disorder; the acronym stands for “mitochondrial myopathy, encephalopathy, lactic acidosis, stroke-like episodes”) and for Type 2 diabetes when used in combination with metformin, a popular anti-diabetes drug. The company plans to publish the results of the recent Phase Ib trial in a peer-reviewed publication this spring.

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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8 responses to “Sirtris Anti-Aging Drug Generates Buzz, But May Already Be Old News”

  1. Jeff Bergman says:

    Natural Resveratrol Supplements have been recommended by Dr. Oz, Oprah.s doctor as the best chance to live a long and healthy life.
    According to Wikipedia, Consumer Lab, an independent dietary
    supplement and over the counter products evaluation organization,
    published a report on 13 November 2007 on the popular resveratrol
    supplements. The organization reported that there exists a wide range
    in quality, dose, and price among the 13 resveratrol products
    evaluated. The actual amount of resveratrol contained in the
    different brands range from 2.2mg for Revatrol, which claimed to have
    400mg of “Red Wine Grape Complex”, to 500mg for Biotivia Transmax,
    which is consistent with the amount claimed on the product’s label.
    Prices per 100mg of resveratrol ranged from less than $.30 for
    products made by, jarrow, and country life, to a high of
    $45.27 for the Revatrol brand. None of the products tested were found
    to have significant levels of heavy metals or other contaminants.

  2. Dr. James Harding says:

    Sirtris is attempting to replicate a natural compound, resveratrol, which his peer-reviewed studies and those of other reputable scientists have shown to have enormous health benefits. This is commendable. The problem is that resveratrol can be obtained relatively inexpensively from reliable producers such as biotivia presently. He may spend a fortune and ten years only to produce something that is already available.

  3. For resveratrol you can go to this public price watch:

    It is also public forum, so you can participate and comment, as well as help add prices to the Resveratrol price watch list:

    Over 80 products compared so far.

  4. Tim Jones says:

    It would appear that the active compounds they are using use a similar pathway as Glyciphage (aka metformin) does. This would explain the increased glucose tolerance. Considering that Metformin has a pretty good safety profile, and a proven track record I would think that it would be a better choice to resveratrol. Its only real flaw is that it is inexpensive and out of patent… Interesting how that works isnt it??

  5. So taking resveratrol on its own should improve diabetes, i just read a report that says that The “Endocrine Society” says that consuming resveratrol leads to benefits in diabetic patients and Resveratrol Stimulates Brain To Improve Diabetes