Pill that replaces exercise could be a ‘game-changer,’ report says

Is it difficult for you to exercise? You may be in luck, because doctors are developing a pill that could do all of the work for you, according to a new report. 

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Researchers from Salk Institute for Biological Studies are testing compounds for a drug that could simulate weight loss, The Washington Post reports. 

“Our goal is to understand these circuits," said Ronald Evans, director of the gene expression laboratory at the Salk. "We are taking this concept and trying to develop a drug that can help us game the system that is naturally activated during exercise.”

The chemical compound they are exploring is called 516, and they’ve been working on it since 2007. It mimics working out by triggering the genetic circuit that encourages muscles to burn fat. 

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Another drug known as compound 14 is also in the works thanks to Ali Tavassoli, a professor of chemical biology at Britain's University of Southampton. It yields similar weight loss results, because it breaks down sugar “by fooling cells into thinking they have run out of energy,” Tavassoli said. 

Compound 14 could also serve as treatment for other conditions, including diabetes, hypertension and high blood sugar. 

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However, the two medicines, which would require Food and Drug Administration licensing, wouldn’t be for everyone. They would be designated for those unable to exercise, including patients with Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease.

"There are many reasons why people cannot run or walk or exercise," Evans said. "If you can bring them a small molecule that can convey the benefits of training, you can really help a lot of people."

Although the FDA doesn’t recognize “the inability to exercise” as an illness, Evans intends to target those with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a genetic disorder that causes muscle weakness, to prove his drug’s effectiveness. 

It’s currently being tested in a small human safety study. Tavassoli’s has yet to undergo trials.

Despite the promising findings, the scientists acknowledge “people who aren't sick will want it,” Evans said. “Everyone knows that whatever exercise they get probably isn't enough. But we are not developing a drug like this to make someone run faster.”

He believes the pros will outweigh the cons. “It's not healthy to be sedentary,” he said. “That's why we are developing this drug. We are trying to take science out of the laboratory and bring it into the clinic in a way that can change people's lives. If we can do that, it would be a game-changer.”

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