Sirtris Begins Clinical Trials On Anti-Aging Drug

youth“Who wants to live forever?” the rock band Queen once sang. If the billions of dollars Americans spend each year on vitamin supplements and cosmetic surgery are any indication, plenty of people would eagerly leap headfirst into the Fountain of Youth if it existed. Now, the New York Times reports that at least one company has taken a large step in its quest to extend the human lifespan.  

In recent years, scientists have focused on two possible pathways to eliminate aging: calorically restricted diets, which have been shown to extend the lifespans of laboratory mice by 30 to 40 percent; and single gene changes. In tests on small laboratory animals, changing a single gene has markedly increased the animals’ lifespans. Both caloric restriction and single gene changes seem to trigger particular biological pathways to prevent aging.

A class of drugs called sirtuin activators may have the same anti-aging effect. The main drug candidate is resveratrol, an antioxidant found in grapes and red wine. The Times reports that Sirtris Pharmaceuticals of Cambridge, Mass., has begun clinical trials on a resveratrol formulation, along with small-molecule sirtuin activators that can be given in lower doses. The medications are being tested against diabetes, among other diseases.

Resveratrol has been hyped as the lastest miracle supplement, to the point where the scientist who discovered its anti-aging potential (Sirtris co-founder David Sinclair) has become a minor celebrity. But as Business Week noted last month, resveratrol has yet to be proven in a large-scale clinical trial. Skeptics also point out that caloric restriction has not been tested on humans and may have a stronger effect in short-lived creatures. Attempting to mimic its effects, they say,  may prove futile.

Additional companies working to slow or cure aging include Sierra Sciences, a biotechnology company developing therapeutics to reverse the effects of aging; Juvenon, developer of a dietary supplement intended to postpone cellular aging; and BioMarker Pharmaceuticals, which is using its knowledge of the genes that control aging to develop therapeutics that slow aging and prevent the onset of age-related disorders.

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