'Exercise Drug'

Soon, there may be a pharmaceutical fix for those who struggle with diet and exercise. Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have successfully tested a drug, called SR9009, in mice that kickstarts metabolism and results in increased muscle development.

Essentially, it's an exercise regime in a pill.

“SR9009 alters the metabolic profile of skeletal muscle in a manner similar to the changes observed [in] animals [that] are endurance trained. Basically, the drug sends a signal to the muscle to tell it to modify its metabolism,” says drug developer Thomas Burris, Ph.D., a professor in the department of molecular therapeutics at TSRI.

Half of the mice studied showed improved running endurance in terms of both time and distance. “What was clearly interesting was that a small, drug-like molecule could increase metabolic rate in skeletal muscle and increase exercise endurance,” Burris adds.

Not Just a “Diet” Pill

There’s no way to sugarcoat it—though many have tried—maintaining a healthy weight can be difficult. Because it’s hard, many have tried “miracle" weight-loss pills and other quick fixes for something that ultimately requires a lifestyle change. Many over-the-counter diet and weight-loss pills are unregulated and may contain dangerous ingredients.

SR9009, however, isn’t like appetite suppressants, laxatives, or “fat blockers.” And you won’t find SR9009 in the ingredient lists of protein powders or exercise supplements.

The difference between SR9009 and other diet pills is in its chemistry. “SR9009 is not an appetite suppressant—as many weight-loss drugs are—and directly works by increasing the metabolic rate of muscle,” Burris says.

Your metabolism speeds up and slows down naturally during the day, meaning that sometimes food is used for energy and sometimes it’s stored as fat. By re-synching a dysfunctional metabolic clock, SR9009 ensures that food and excess fat are used as energy.

SR9009 is one of a pair of compounds developed at TSRI by Burris and his team. The drug binds to Rev-erbα, a natural protein in the body that influences lipid and glucose metabolism in the liver, inflammatory responses, and fat-storing cells. By binding to Rev-erbα, SR9009 can kickstart metabolism with another pleasant side-effect: increased muscle strength.

“It ‘transforms’ muscle into muscle that by many attributes appears to be exercising,” Burris explains.

Coming to a Pharmacy Near You?

“We were the first to develop drugs that target Rev-erbα that could be used in animals, and our first observations were that the animals increased their metabolic rate,” Burris says. Burris and his team have been working on Rev-erbα since 2005 and were aware that it plays some role in the regulation of metabolism.

Now, after modulating Rev-erbα's activity with drugs, studies have shown its direct effect on skeletal muscles.

With such strong results, Burris and his team are pursuing funding for a biotechnology company that would focus primarily on the development of SR9009 and other similar compounds for safe use in humans.

In the next year or so, they hope to start phase I clinical trials. Just imagine, weight loss and improved musculature in a bottle.

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