CHICAGO A drug that exploits the benefits of a component in wine proved safe and showed signs that it might improve blood sugar control in people with the most common form of diabetes, Sirtris Pharmaceuticals Inc said on Monday.
The results come from the first human study of a drug that targets a family of genes called sirtuins that control the aging process in humans.
The drug mimics the effects of resveratrol, a chemical in red wine that has been shown in several studies to prolong the life of mice and reduce the advance of age-related diseases, such as diabetes.
The small study showed the drug significantly improved the ability of people with type 2 diabetes to use a type of sugar called glucose, the body's main source of energy.
People with type 2 diabetes do not make or effectively use insulin, the hormone that helps convert sugar into energy.
The 28-day study was designed to show the drug was safe and could be given in once-daily doses. It cleared both of those hurdles, and showed signs that it may work as a treatment.
Of the 98 people in the study, about one-third took a 2.5 gram dose of the drug; one-third took a 5 gram dose; and one-third took a placebo.
Both doses were found to be safe and well tolerated and levels of the drug remained consistent in the blood over the 28-day period, the company said. But the drug also improved glucose tolerance in an oral test and showed a trend toward lowering glucose levels in the blood.
"I was unsure if it would work at all. The fact that we saw a signal is fantastic," said David Sinclair, an associate professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School and a co-founder of Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Sirtris.
The compound, dubbed SRT501, can be absorbed in the body more easily than the red wine compound resveratrol, the company said.
Sirtris has already started a larger drug study. The research is at a very early stage and it may take years before the drug could be submitted for approval.
Sinclair said the company is also working on a similar compound that is 1,000 times more potent than resveratrol. Sinclair said the company hopes to start that study this year.
He said many large pharmaceutical companies are working on the sirtuin longevity genes. "Sirtis is in discussions with large pharmaceutical companies about partnering," he said.
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.