The prospect of a pill that burns fat and builds muscle, for many who don’t exactly enjoy exercise, sounds too good to be true.
But one scientist claims he is close to inventing such a thing after making a sizeable breakthrough.
Ronald Evans, a researcher at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California, says his latest drug is a completely new concept.
Back in 2008, Evans finished a study conducted on mice which found that an experimental compound called GW501516 (aka Endurobol) significantly increased fat burn and athletic performance, even without much exercise.
He stressed that the drug wasn’t ready for human consumption, but that didn’t stop many people getting very excited.
The pills might not work on humans and there could be dangerous side effects, Evans wanted to make clear.
Of course, these caveats were largely cast aside in public discourse surrounding the drugs.
Athletes started taking Endurobol to enhance their performances which then resulted in the drug being banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, and in 2013 they even issued a health warning.
“For a lot of athletes, winning is more important than their intrinsic health or the risk they are taking,” Evans told Bloomberg. “So I guess I’m not surprised they were taking it. They want to win.”
But the studies on mice found that those who’d taken the drug had developed cancerous tumors, and human studies had been stopped because of “serious toxicities.”
Over the next few years, Evans worked on developing different forms of the drug.
In July of this year, his company Mitobridge Inc began testing a new drug called MA0211, and Evans believes it could hold the key to safely improving human cellular metabolism.
With the first treatment, the researchers hope to tackle Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which is a genetic protein mutation affecting one in 5,000 men. Sufferers experience gradual loss of muscle and most die by the age of 26.
Of course, supposed miracle weight loss pills are nothing new, and the vast majority have been quashed as nonsense by science.
But Evans believes his research is different, largely because of his three decade long record on the subject.
His new PPAR (peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor) drug has been built to activate the genes involved in fat-burning while the dangerous, unrelated genes are left off.
When tested on mice with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, their endurance increased. What’s more, thanks to advanced understanding of the adverse signals that could suggest dangerous side effects, there were no markers associated with higher risk of cancer.
The phase 1 safety trial is expected to be completed by July 2018, and the next phase is likely to involve people with Duchenne.
“Our current intent here is to focus on rare diseases where there is unmet need,” Evans’ business partner Kazumi Shiosaki explained to Bloomberg.
Despite the drug’s potential, Evans stresses that they’re only focusing on how it could be used to treat Duchenne sufferers for the time being.
“The challenge for this kind of drug is deciding who should get it,” he says. “I’m mindful that the FDA can only approve drugs that can actually treat a disease. This is a new concept.”
He also makes clear that even if a pill could provide many of the benefits of exercise, everyone should keep active to improve their health and mental wellbeing.
But if ultimately a form of the drug is developed that is safe for everyone to use, it could help improve not just the performance of elite athletes but also the health of the general population.
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