Based: Cambridge, MA
The Scoop: "Under experienced management with science that is aimed squarely at a hot target in science--diseases of aging such as diabetes--Sirtris is a company to watch closely."
What makes it Fierce: Of course, the Fierce 15 is all about private companies. Sirtris barely beat us to the punch, though, going public just days ago. But in this case, we're going to make an exception. This is one company to pay particularly close attention to.
Sirtris' timing on its IPO was impeccable. The company's technology revolves around the concept of calorie restriction; significantly reducing the calories a person absorbs significantly enhances life span and can treat Type 2 diabetes. Recent studies have indicated that the benefits of calorie restriction are achieved through the activation of SIRT1--and that's exactly where Sirtris has been pointed. The company's research is centered on sirtuins, which can offer the benefits of calorie-reduction without actually reducing your diet to something on par with a bird.
"Sirtuins," says CEO Christoph Westphal, M.D., Ph.D., "can be like the kinases of the '90s, a druggable class of enzymes." Westphal is a former venture capitalist with Polaris Venture Partners (and ex-McKinsey guy) and also was the co-founder and CEO of Alnylam and Momenta.
"I've never been associated with a biotech that is so easy to understand for the general public," says Westphal, noting that Wall Street has been quick to pick up on Sirtris' potential as fast as Main Street. "If we're right, it's a game changer. That's a very unusual thing."
SRT501 is in early stage--Ib--trials for diabetes, which has been growing at epidemic proportions. The company has more than 100 patents related to sirtuins. Sirtris has about 80 people working on drug discovery programs, with slightly more than half based in Cambridge. Another 37 chemists are doing work under contract in China, and that has helped keep costs in line.
Sirtris priced its IPO at $10 a share and upped the offering from 5 million to 6 million shares, raising a total of $62.4 million after deducting various expenses, underwriting discounts and commissions. At the end of the first quarter, and before the IPO, Sirtris had $80 million on its balance sheet, giving it ample opportunity to push through a mid-stage trial without partnering.At a time when many biotechs still struggle to stay in the same ballpark as its original price range, it’s a telling sign of the confidence investors are placing in a company that is still some time away from mid-stage data.
What to look for: Other pharma companies have indicated a strong interest in the company's approach, but there are a host of new chemical entities to explore and new disease targets to tackle.