Glaxo Promotes Sirtris’ Christoph Westphal to Drug Discovery Leadership Role

Christoph Westphal is not only sticking around at Cambridge, MA-based Sirtris after the biotech company was acquired by drug giant GlaxoSmithKline, he’s just accepted a promotion. Westphal, one of the region’s top life sciences entrepreneurs, agreed to take on a new responsibility as senior vice president of Glaxo’s Center of Excellence for External Drug Discovery, while continuing to run Sirtris’ efforts to develop drugs against diseases of aging. Michelle Dipp, vice president for corporate development at Sirtris, will also get a leadership role in the Center of Excellence, based in Cambridge.

This looks like it will keep Westphal busy. He’ll have a big corporate checkbook and a mission to form alliances with some of the world’s top biotech companies that can help strengthen Glaxo’s pipeline. It certainly looks like a deal sweetener on Glaxo’s part to retain Westphal, who has co-founded Sirtris, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALNY) and Momenta Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: MNTA). He agreed to sell Sirtris to Glaxo for $720 million in June.

I’ve heard plenty of executives say they are content with life at a Big Pharma company after they sold their startup, right before they left to launch another new venture. Westphal also insisted he’s happy with Big Pharma life in a previous interview with Ryan, and he said it again today in an e-mail when asked why he took on the new gig.

“GSK is externalizing a portion of research and drug development and we’re excited to be creating revolutionary medicines with biotech partners,” he said.

Still, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him keep his fingers in a number of startups pursuing big ideas, even if it’s just through serving on boards. In October, he agreed to join the board of Boston-based Alnara Pharmaceuticals, a startup that’s raised $20 million to develop drugs that work entirely in the gut, without being absorbed into the bloodstream where they can cause side effects.

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