UPDATED: GSK moves to shutter Sirtris' Cambridge office, integrate R&D

By John Carroll and Ryan McBride

GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) has decided to shutter Sirtris Pharmaceuticals' office in Cambridge, MA, opting to fully integrate their research work now underway into the giant pharma company's R&D operations. A spokesperson for GSK tells FierceBiotech that about 60 staffers currently work at the site in Cambridge, and a yet-to-be-determined number will be given a chance to relocate to the Philadelphia area.

"I think that the research they've done has been very successful and has moved on to a point where R&D leadership felt it was time to move it to the next phase," says spokesperson Melinda Stubbee. In coming weeks the company will review the staff and determine who will be offered a chance to make a move.

Biotech staffers in the Cambridge hub heard the news on the grapevine and tipped off FierceBiotech mid-day today.

Jim Ellis, currently the vice president of preclinical research, has been appointed to lead the research, adds Stubbee. Sirtris is a special DPU group in GSK. The current chief executive, George Vlasuk, is looking at doing something else inside GSK.

GlaxoSmithKline bought out Sirtris for $720 million in 2008, and the science has been under fire ever since. Just days ago company co-founder David Sinclair sought to show how the red wine chemical resveratrol and other compounds directly activate an enzyme called SIRT1, an activity on the target that has been hotly contested. But GSK says the move to close the Sirtris offices and relocate the work should not be interpreted as a sign of failing confidence in its work.

"There's a lot of excitement about taking sirtuins to the next stage of drug development," says Stubbee, with plans to move to the clinic in the next three to four years.

Sirtris has been testing multiple compounds in clinical trials in recent years, yet the work hasn't yielded a prime-time drug candidate for diabetes or other hoped-for uses, Vlasuk indicated in an interview with FierceBiotech last week. As of then, Sirtris/GSK had just one Phase Ib study recruiting patients to test a compound known as SRT2104 to combat inflammation in ulcerative colitis.

The company discontinued development of at least two other Sirtris candidates after early human testing, according to Vlasuk, and scientists in the group have been working on improving their understanding of anti-aging mechanisms in hopes of creating more potent SIRT1-activating compounds to advance into trials. 

While GSK plans to continue this research, it's hard to imagine that the current status of the Sirtris pipeline is what leaders of the London-based drugmaker hoped it would be by now when they pulled the trigger on the sizable buyout nearly 5 years ago and began pumping many millions of dollars more into the unit's R&D budget.