Following closely on news that products in their pipeline can decrease blood glucose and may have tumor suppressor potential, Sirtris Pharmaceuticals (SIRT) has been snapped up by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

Sirtris has focused on the commercial development of clinically useful sirtuin activators, which are predicted to be useful as anti-diabetic drugs. Data from academic labs have suggested they could be of even wider use, e.g., in increasing exercise tolerance or treating inflammatory disease. Underneath it all, of course, is the knowledge that the the sirtuins were initially identified as longevity assurance genes; the subtext of all discussions of sirtuin activators is that they may mediate their beneficial effects by slowing aspects of the aging process itself.

The acquisition of an small company at a large premium (the offer was more than 80% higher than Sirtris’ market cap) by a pharmaceutical giant is one of the first demonstrations that the drug industry is taking seriously the idea that there’s money to be made in treating aging per se rather than all of the associated conditions separately (link):

“Through the acquisition of Sirtris, GlaxoSmithKline will significantly enhance its metabolic, neurology, immunology and inflammation research efforts by establishing a presence in the field of sirtuins, a recently discovered class of enzymes that are believed to be involved in the aging process,” the companies said in a joint release.

Then again, even in the best case, those who take sirtuin activators will get age-related diseases eventually anyway, so the question of whether to treat aging or age-related disease isn’t really an either/or choice.

I am currently wondering whether recent findings that indiscriminate activation of SIRT1 might lead to cancer (e.g., when DBC1 is deleted) will temper the enthusiasm for these compounds.

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