Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Company market intelligence - GSK, Sirtris

GlaxoSmithKline have made an offer for Sirtris - $720 million, a hefty premium (84%) to what the company was trading for previously.

Sirtuins are emerging as potential therapeutic target to treat diseases such as aging, metabolism and stress tolerance. Amongst genes that have been shown to affect aging in model organisms, sirtuin genes are unique in that their activity level is positively correlated with lifespan (i.e. they are anti-aging genes).

For example, there are seven human Sirtuins (SIRT1-7) that display diversity in cellular localization and function. Growing evidence suggests that small-molecule activators of SIRT1 may counteract age-related afflictions such as type 2 diabetes. Inhibitors of SIRT2 may be useful in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's disease. Recent discoveries of small-molecule and protein modulators of Sirtuin deacetylation activity have provided insight into the biological and molecular functions of Sirtuins and have validated their potential as therapeutics.

Sirtuin 1 (SIRT1) in cells may have a role in regulating important aspects of mitochondrial biology. Mitochondria have been linked to aging, and also to diseases of aging. Thus, sirtuins might provide a key link between mitochondrial dysfunction, aging and metabolic disease.

Essentially, GSK are betting that this biochemical pathway will turn out to be critical for chronic aging diseases and therefore will generate future revenues by slowing the aging process.

While this novel concept may offer huge potential, it will also have some interesting challenges along the way for GSK and Sirtris to navigate. Imagine how might the FDA approach a a drug for aging and life extension? How would you design a Phase II trial for longevity? How long would it take? What are the clinical endpoints and measurables of clear benefit? Then it all starts to get very murky and uncertain from a regulatory perspective.

A cynic might, however, wonder whether GSK laid off a large number of employees so they could have this injection of cash (because as Dilbert's boss says "firing employees is like printing money") to bid for Sirtris.

The science I'm very impressed with, the corporate shenanigans considerably less so.

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