Drug maker packs red-wine-like compound in pill

CHICAGO Wed Nov 28, 2007 1:33pm EST

A Bulgarian wine selector fills a glass with red wine, January 24, 2002. REUTERS/Dimitar Dilkoff

A Bulgarian wine selector fills a glass with red wine, January 24, 2002.

Credit: Reuters/Dimitar Dilkoff

CHICAGO (Reuters) - New compounds that act like the red wine ingredient resveratrol may offer a new formula for type 2 diabetes drugs and other age-related diseases, researchers at U.S. drug maker Sirtris Pharmaceuticals said on Wednesday.

"The excitement here is that we're not talking about red wine anymore. We're talking about real drugs," said David Sinclair, an associate professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School and a co-founder of Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Sirtris.

"This is the first time that real drugs have been designed to go after diseases through the genes that control aging," said Sinclair, whose research appears in the journal Nature.

"One of the drawbacks of resveratrol is the doses need to be large. Now this paper says you can reduce it into a little pill taken once a day," he said in a telephone interview.

Sinclair and researchers at Sirtris have been looking for drug compounds that mimic the effects of resveratrol, the chemical in red wine that has been shown in several studies to prolong the life of mice and reduce the advance of age-related disease.

They tested some 500,000 molecules to isolate a handful that would have the same effect as resveratrol on the seven genes called sirtuins that have been found in several studies to control the aging process.

Their latest research shows these experimental drug compounds -- which are 1,000 times more potent than resveratrol -- helped reverse diabetes symptoms and reduce insulin sensitivity in two different studies in diabetic mice and one in rats.

"When you see it work in those three models, you have increased confidence that it will have a universal effect on organisms," Sinclair said.

He said that is enough to begin human testing, which the company plans for the first half of 2008.

"The chances of success in humans is estimated at 80 to 90 percent. We'll know next year," he said, depending on when the company gets the go-ahead from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to start clinical trials.

The discovery may have implications well beyond diabetes drugs, which is itself a $19 billion global market.

"We will make a drug to treat one disease, but it will, as an added bonus, protect you against most of the other diseases of the Western world."

Those age-related diseases could include cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer's, he said.

While Sinclair and company executives have high hopes for the compounds, they acknowledge that many compounds that hold great promise in animals fail to work in humans, either because they are toxic or because they do not work.

Type 2 diabetes, the kind that comes from too little exercise and a poor diet, accounts for about 90 percent of the 180 million cases of diabetes around the world, according to the World Health Organization.

(Editing by Eric Beech)

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