The reason this matters is that SRT501 had been one of the most closely watched molecules in the Big Pharma pipeline ever since 2008, when GlaxoSmithKline snapped it up in a $720 million acquisition of Sirtris Pharmaceuticals — the company that first suggested resveratrol might be useful for treating age-related diseases.
Archive for the ‘Resveratrol’ Category
Way back in January 2009, the Better Business Bureau issued a warning to consumers to beware of online offers for free trials of acai berry–one of the many products sold on the Web that purports to promote weight loss and halt aging. Turns out many of the so-called free trials weren’t free at all–they actually hooked unsuspecting shoppers into expensive monthly shipments of acai juice or supplements. Since then, many consumer protection organizations have issued similar warnings. And last year, Oprah Winfrey and her on-air doctor Mehmet Oz sued 50 Internet retailers for improperly using their names and likenesses to advertise acai and other supplements.
But as I learned recently, these offers are still rampant on the Internet. Read more at HuffPo.
In Selling the Fountain of Youth, I write about the plethora of Internet offers for “free trials” of supplements that purportedly extend life, such as acai berry and resveratrol. Earlier this year, the Web was over-run with ads featuring Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Oz, as if to imply these celebrities had actually endorsed specific acai and resveratrol products for anti-aging (they hadn’t). Winfrey and Oz sued 50 Internet supplement sellers, and most of those ads came off the Web.
However, as I discovered recently while reporting a story for the US News & World Report retirement issue, many seniors are still falling for free-trial offers that aren’t exactly free. The problem is so pervasive that the Federal Trade Commission is now getting involved. Read more here.
I just got wind of a controversy that erupted a few weeks back over two executives of GlaxoSmithKline who had formerly been with Sirtris, the company that discovered resveratrol’s supposed life-extending powers. Resveratrol, the red-wine supplement that has been all the rage, is being studied in pharmaceutical-grade form to treat a variety of age-related diseases, but so far has been unimpressive.
Nevertheless, Christoph Westphal and Michelle Dipp of Glaxo/Sirtris were marketing resveratrol supplements through their Boston non-profit, Healthy Lifespan Institute, the Web site Xconomy revealed. Soon after, Glaxo ordered them to stop selling the supplement and resign their positions on the board of Healthy Lifespan.
The institute had been offering resveratrol for an eye-popping $590 a year. Even though they didn’t intend to profit off the supplement, they clearly recognized an opportunity to jump on a lucrative bandwagon. But here’s my question: What’s the appeal of a supplement that has yet to show any proven anti-aging powers?
An article in the July/August issue of Technology Review recounts the travails of Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, a company founded on the premise that resveratrol–a substance in red wine–might extend life. Resveratrol seemed in early research to activate an enzyme known as a sirtuin, which in turn mimicked the life-extending impact of calorie restriction. The writer, Karen Weintraub (no relation), reveals some recent events that have taken the shine off Sirtris’ approach, raising doubts that a so-called “youth pill” is anywhere on the horizon. The story is pegged to the release of the book The Youth Pill, by former Fortune writer David Stipp.
I also write about Sirtris in Selling the Fountain of Youth, but with a decidedly skeptical take. Long before Sirtris had any compelling scientific proof its approach worked, entrepreneurs started selling resveratrol supplements and claiming that one of Sirtris’ co-founders, Harvard scientist David Sinclair, was actually endorsing them (he wasn’t). Still, Sinclair became a media darling, appearing as an anti-aging expert on 60 Minutes, and sharing a bottle of red wine with a coy Barbara Walters on a TV special called “Live to be 150…Can You Do It?”
Sinclair knows full well the science will take a long time to come to fruition, and he has said many times–including in interviews I did for this story in BusinessWeek–that it will take something much more potent than resveratrol to produce an anti-aging effect.
Drug giant GlaxoSmithKline purchased Sirtris for an eye-popping $720 million in 2008. Together the companies are studying compounds that stimulate sirtuins. But as the Technology Review story points out, last month Glaxo stopped recruiting patients for a trial of one of Sirtris’ resveratrol compounds, which is being studied to treat multiple myeloma. The company said it needs time to figure out why some patients are developing a dangerous kidney ailment. And Pfizer published a study earlier this year questioning whether one of Sirtris’ other compounds even targets sirtuins effectively.
If the sirtuin approach or others someday prove to be effective, the companies developing these drugs will still have a basic problem: The FDA doesn’t recognize aging as a disease. So instead the companies will have to test their drugs in diseases that are common in aging people, such as cancer and diabetes. And judging from recent news, even that is likely to be a challenge.
What’s the moral of the story? Don’t count on a pill–or a hormone injection, supplement or any other tonic–to extend your life. Age happens. There’s no shortcut to preventing it.