Sirtris Pharmaceuticals: Living Healthier, Longer

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  • Topic: Resveratrol, Pharmaceutical industry, Venture capital
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MARCH 18, 2008


Sirtris Pharmaceuticals: Living Healthier, Longer
"You can live to be a hundred if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred." Woody Allen One Saturday in February 2007, Dr. David Sinclair and Dr. Christoph Westphal co-founders of Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, a Cambridge, MA-based life sciences firm, navigated the company’s narrow hallways and cramped offices to a conference room for their regular weekend strategy planning session. When they reached the conference room, Sinclair and Westphal reviewed their activities during the past week. Sinclair, who was an associate professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School and co-chair of Sirtris’s Scientific Advisory Board, had had interviews with Charlie Rose, the Wall Street Journal, and Newsweek. Westphal, who was Sirtris’s CEO and vice chairman, had closed a $39 million round of financing, bringing the total amount of invested capital in the company to $103 million. Sinclair and Westphal were riding a wave of interest generated, in part, by their company’s promising research into age-related diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. The company’s research into disease, however, only partly explained its appearance on the covers of Scientific American, Fortune, and the Wall Street Journal. According to their suggestive headlines – “Can DNA Stop Time: Unlocking the Secrets of Longevity Genes” (Scientific American), “Drink wine and live longer: The exclusive story of the biotech startup searching for anti-aging miracle drugs” (Fortune) and “Youthful Pursuit: Researchers seek key to Antiaging in Calorie Cutback” (Wall Street Journal) – Sirtris was hoping to develop drugs that could treat diseases of aging, and in so doing had the potential to extend the lifespan of human beings.1 The Sirtris team had, in fact, established a link between resveratrol, a compound found in red wine-producing grapes, and sirtuins, a newly discovered family of enzymes with links to improved longevity, metabolism and health in living things as diverse as yeast, mice and humans. Sinclair and Westphal were building Sirtris around the development of sirtuin-activating drugs for the diabetes market. The Sirtris team had developed its own proprietary formulation of resveratrol, called SRT501, and was developing new chemical entities (NCEs) that were up to 1000x more potent activators of sirtuins than resveratrol. 1 Leonard Guarente and David Sinclair, “Can DNA Stop Time: Unlocking the Secrets of Longevity Genes,” Scientific American,

March 2006; David Stipp, “Researchers seek key to antiaging in calorie cutback,” Wall Street Journal, October 30, 2006. David Stipp, “Drink wine and Live Longer: The exclusive story of the biotech startup searching for anti-aging miracle drugs,” Fortune, February 12, 2007. See Appendix for pictures of the covers of the Wall Street Journal and Fortune. ____________________________________________________________

Professor Toby Stuart and Senior Researcher David Kiron, Global Research Group, prepared this case, with advice and contributions from Alexander Crisses (MBA 2008). HBS cases are developed solely as the basis for class discussion. Cases are not intended to serve as endorsements, sources of primary data, or illustrations of effective or ineffective management. Copyright © 2008 President and Fellows of Harvard College. To order copies or request permission to reproduce materials, call 1-800-545-7685, write Harvard Business School Publishing, Boston, MA 02163, or go to No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, used in a spreadsheet, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the permission of Harvard Business School.


Sirtris Pharmaceuticals: Living Large, Longer

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