Buzzkill for Red-Wine Drug: GlaxoSmithKline Suspends Trial

GlaxoSmithKline hopes a substance in red wine could have anti-aging properties.
GlaxoSmithKline hopes a substance in red wine could have anti-aging properties.

In the last few years, resveratrol, a protein found in red wine, has attracted huge buzz for its potential to extend life span by slowing the progress of age-related diseases. Jay Leno joked about it, 60 Minutes featured it and Fortune ran a story on it titled "Can red wine help you live forever?"

But the search for the would-be Fountain of Youth may have hit a snag. GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) on Tuesday said it has suspended a small clinical trial of SRT501, a proprietary form of resveratrol, due to safety concerns. Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, which U.K.-based GlaxoSmithKline bought for $720 million in 2008, is developing the drug.

Sirtris has been testing SRT501 and others in several diseases, such as diabetes and cancer, hoping they may provide health benefits by activating enzymes in the body called sirtuins. One sirtuin, SIRT1, has demonstrated anti-aging properties in yeast. But different SIRT1 studies since have yielded inconsistent results on that front.

Complication's Cause Is Unclear

In the suspended trial, the company had been studying SRT501's effect on patients with advanced multiple myeloma, a white-blood-cell cancer, in the U.K. and Denmark. The compound's safety and tolerability (how patients' bodies tolerate it), when used alone and in combination with cancer drug Velcade, were being assessed, according to the National Institutes of Health's ClinicalTrials site.

Some of the patients have developed cast nephropathy, a complication of multiple myeloma that causes kidney disease. The company isn't yet certain of the cast nephropathy's cause and hasn't seen this event in past SRT501 trials, says GlaxoSmithKline spokeswoman Sarah Alspach.

"New patient enrollment was put on hold while we analyze the data that was collected to date," according to a company statement. "Investigators and regulators in the U.K. and Denmark were appropriately notified of the decision to temporarily hold further enrollment while determining the next step for this particular trial."

Some current patients have opted to continue with the study after being informed of the development, notes Alspach.

Focus on Other SIRT1 Activators

While there are no ongoing SRT501 trials, three completed ones tested the drug in patients with type 2 diabetes, the disease's most common form.

GlaxoSmithKline is now focusing its efforts on more potent and selective SIRT1 activators -- SRT2104 and SRT2379 -- both of which are involved in several exploratory clinical trials.

Hat tip to In the Pipeline, which reported the news Monday.