New drug mimics the beneficial effects of exercise


August 20, 2013

The Scripps Research Institute has developed a drug that duplicates the benefits of exercise – at least for mice (image: Shutterstock)

The Scripps Research Institute has developed a drug that duplicates the benefits of exercise – at least for mice (image: Shutterstock)

Image Gallery (2 images)

A drug known as SR9009, which is currently under development at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), increases the level of metabolic activity in skeletal muscles of mice. Treated mice become lean, develop larger muscles and can run much longer distances simply by taking SR9009, which mimics the effects of aerobic exercise. If similar effects can be obtained in people, the reversal of obesity, metabolic syndrome, and perhaps Type-II diabetes might be the very welcome result.

The drug was developed by Professor Thomas Burris, who found that it was able to reduce obesity in populations of mice. It binds to and activates a protein called Rev-ErbAα, which influences fat and sugar burning in the liver, production of fat cells, and the body's inflammatory response.

Drug candidate SR9009 is a simple molecule that produces significant benefits (Image: The Scripps Research Institute)

Previous studies on mice lacking Rev-ErbAα showed decreased skeletal muscles, metabolic rate, and running capacity. Such mice appeared fated by their genetics to live as couch potatoes.

When Burris' group administered SR9009 to these mice to activate the Rev-Erbα protein, the results were remarkable. The metabolic rate in the skeletal muscles of the mice increased significantly. The treated mice were not allowed to exercise, but despite this they developed the ability to run about 50 percent further before being stopped by exhaustion.

“The animals actually get muscles like an athlete who has been training,” said Burris. “The pattern of gene expression after treatment with SR9009 is that of an oxidative-type muscle – again, just like an athlete.”

Burris noted that the beneficial effects of SR9009 on mice could carry over to people with metabolic syndrome or other conditions that reduce their ability to exercise.

"We do have indications that the effects of the drug are very similar to what you see with someone who has metabolic disorder who starts exercising," Burris stated in a Voice Of America interview. "They see a decrease in cholesterol, a decrease in triglycerides, an improvement in glucose metabolism. And a lot of this is due to transforming the muscle into a more metabolically active muscle."

If the effects of SR9009 on mice can safely be reproduced for people, the new drug may offer new therapies for obesity and its companions, metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Another area in which SR9009 or a similar drug may confer substantial benefit is to offset the loss of general muscle conditioning which occurs as a side effect of reduced activity caused by illness and/or aging. People most likely to enjoy these benefits include those suffering from severe arthritis, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and other conditions that restrict the ability to exercise.

Here's hoping that small-scale clinical tests on people begin soon!

Source: Scripps Research Institute

About the Author
Brian Dodson From an early age Brian wanted to become a scientist. He did, earning a Ph.D. in physics and embarking on an R&D career which has recently broken the 40th anniversary. What he didn't expect was that along the way he would become a patent agent, a rocket scientist, a gourmet cook, a biotech entrepreneur, an opera tenor and a science writer. All articles by Brian Dodson



The dosage used in the experiments (with mice) was 100mg/kg intraperitoneal (into body cavity) which, if scaled up to a 160lb, human would be 7.3 gm per dose. I see a problem here. :-)


What would be the effect of this drug on bodybuilders? Is it a replacement for steroids?


I really hope this can come out to the market and is somewhat affordable.

Zaron Gibson

Where do i sign up for human trials :-)

David Adkin

This and another drug called Aicar have the same action and are closely linked/related. Aicar has been around for a lot longer and is on the world anti doping list.

David Adkin

I wonder if this would work to reverse muscle loss in astronauts on long duration space flights. They currently spend a good portion of their day exercising and still loss muscle mass. I also wonder what effect it would have on the bone density then. I am guessing none.


This is gonna be abused by Gym Junkies looking for that "edge", I guarantee.

I, however, would also like to volunteer for human trials.



Simon Burdett

I'd imagine much greater use in maintaining long term comatose patients or helping to rehabilitate stroke / car accident patients. The key I see is helping people who otherwise can't exercise. A quadriplegic would have trouble exercising for example and could gain a considerable improvement in their quality of life using a drug like this. For people with type 2 diabetes / metabolic syndrome the only real cure is to stop eating sugar and lots of carbohydrates and do real exercise. The drug might give a kick start but in the end the person would need to change their ways.


No mention of side effects. None at all... I smell a rat.


Sure not to work in real life.


My kind of exercise ;)

Tim Mitchinson

Absolutely loving the positive comments. Yes, for astronauts it will be a must. Similar drug for increasing bone density absolutely a requirement. Well done to the scientists for this result.


Sounds like a real life version of Dr Seuss and the Sneetches!!!


I hope people who do real exercise will still have a big edge over couch potatoes who take this drug. Imagine spending hours at the gym, but your fitness is the same as the slob next door who never does any exercise.


If this doesn't cause debilitating side effects, this will have a huge black market. How many people would rather get injections than hit the gym.

Siegfried Gust

@Franc: On the contrary, I hope that they don't. This drug promises to make you fit without wasting hours at the gym, thus letting you use up your life for more productive or interesting pursuits. Why are you implying that spending hours mindlessly pushing weights has some intrinsic (moral?) value in itself? This irrational attitude smacks of the Luddites to me.


I want that pill.

Few here understand that certain debilitating health conditions prevent many from "hitting the gym." This pill could help compensate for this.

As for the gym, try the old-fashioned way. Paint the house. Wax the car. Dig a garden. Skip the fancy outfit. Do some constructive work instead.


I find it interesting that a lot of people see this as a competition, that this is the lazy persons way out. This drug has the potential to help out a lot of people, even those that go to the gym. Why do you go to the gym but to stay fit. If this drug helps with that then you can spend that time on other better things. Being a person genetically disposed to being overwieght I think this is great. It will allow me that extra bit to get into the shape I want to be but can not due to genetics. Done be a hater, because this can help everyone. Just think of the good you can do, and the projects you can do by putting your time and effort towards them instead of tweaking your body at the gym.


@David Adkin, are there side effects to Aicar when used as an 'exercise enhancement' drug? If Aicar is illegal to use, then this new drug will also be made illegal, and will not be available, nor will its side effects be readily found. I sit at a desk all day. I would love an exercise drug with no side effects.


What is the effect on aging? Imagine a 90 year old person with the muscle tone of a 25 year old.

Or does it burn your muscles out, and you end up with the muscles of a 90 year old by the time you're 40?

What happens to the non-skelatel muscles like the heart, intestinal walls, and anal sphincter?

What happens when you stop this treatment? do you lose it all? and how fast? what is left of your muscles?

I think it could be a great benefit to humanity... if it passes the "And then What" test... This is nothing more than Steroids if it kills you iin the end.

Matthew Bailey

Way to go guys, good job being enablers of laziness.

Mike Loughlin

This sounds too good to be true. What are the possible side effects?


How 'bout you just exercise!! Holy crap. There are a few situations where this would be beneficial, but good grief. Go buy a cheap pair of running shoes at walmart and start walking, then jog when you can... don't eat crap. It's not hard. This country doesn't have an obesity problem, it has an addiction to comfort. God-forbid, you push a little bit on a run or workout hard and get sore, or suffer through a long run, or your knee hurts for a bit... Absurd.

Michael Hodges

Administrators of Obamacare and our military will love these types of drugs. Wonder what the side effects will be though? I can see a mandatory drug test on the general population coming in the next few years. Think that is just paranoid or would be impossible? Check our history


I am not surprised at how many people would rather pop a pill or take an injection than go to the gym. However, I am saddened by it. For those who say they don't have the time, I call BS. There is always time. You just don't want to put forth the effort. And you don't need to put in hours "mindlessly" pushing weights. Thirty minutes of a well-developed, high intensity training program performed 3-4 days per week can provide huge health benefits, such as lowering cholesterol, improved cardiovasular function, increased bone density, increased insulin sensitivity, etc. And let us not forget that exercise takes discipline and a solid work ethic. For those looking for the easy way out, you should be ashamed.

That being said, I am excited to see how this drug could help those with debilitating diseases which cannot be improved or cured through exercise and nutrition.

Joshua Castilleja

Well i think some people actually enjoy working out, is why they see this as potentially ruining that, because part of how you justify it is that its good for you. I mean it feels good to push yourself, to show yourself what your capable of, and for it to be good for you.

If their lazy friends can take a pill and get the same results, it just kinda seems unfair. But thats ignoring all the good it can do for people with medical problems or people who are just to busy to exercise, although from my experience most people who say that are really just undisciplined when it comes to exercise.

I don't think this would replace actual weight training to build muscle mass, as it says that it mimics aerobic exercise which is like cardio. Someone asked if this would replaced steroids, definitely not! You could possible take them both together, the steroids promote muscle growth, awhile this new drug would act like the exercise that triggers it. But it would be far less effective then actually lifting weights.


This can be great for handicapped individuals like myself who cannot exercise in the traditional ways!

Of course Medicare probably won't cover it and too expensive for retirees. Story of my life!


So... if you are not "fated by genetics" to be deficient in production of that certain molecule - that drug may not help you. If you want to stay in the real world, check out the Wall Street Journal article about a technology that top athletes are using NOW. CVAC Systems.


Having the real form of arthritis makes exercise difficult so what are my chances of trying this new found freedom...

James Haldane

What a bunch of masochistic morals-mongers! I have NEVER seen a lion, or even chimpanzee do some "aerobic exercise"! In nature, and we still seem to be a part of it, it is all about the genetic predispositions and its adequacy to support fitness for SURVIVAL! The moment we lit our first fire, we surpassed our need for our own fur-coat....the moment we constructed our first refrigerator, we surpassed the need to wait for the proper season to feed....the moment we invented ANY drug - we surpassed the necessity to suffer and die because of certain conditions. Therefore - shut up and let the evolution continue. Anything we do will either kill us, or make us better. So, let us see.

p.s. A super-fit, very rich, good-looking, extreme-sport loving, top european executive just offed himself few weeks ago. Suppose that "hitting the gym" couldn`t protect him from depression. And if he took some "artificial happiness" a.k.a. antidepressant therapy - he, very probably, WOULD have survived. This much about moral superiority of the "true, hard way"....

Tick Tock

For people who have arthritis or conditions that stop them exercising that get worse with weight gain, this could provide a lot of relief and extend independence and mobility. All the comments about "laziness" seem to forget not everyone has the financial means to go to a gym, or a body that will co-operate.

For people on psych meds with side effects cause weight gain and lethargy this could extend life spans (a lot of anti-psychotics cause weight gain and the long term survival rates of people on these meds are not very good) lower the rates of type 2 diabetes in this section of the population.

Add to this physical therapy applications and this could improve quality of life for many people who have disabilities.

Facebook User

Well, hope springs eternal, but we've been down this path before. To massive fanfare and hype "GW501516" was pronounced the long sought "exercise in a pill". But it turned out to be just another dangerous anabolic steroid. What i DO find interesting is that this was developed in a pure research laboratory and not by a pharmaceutical company...


Exercise can be good for you, if done in moderation. But know that every sports injury you have will come back to stay with you after you hit 50.


The US military is actually having a huge problem with obesity and given the increased physical capability of the test subjects this is likely going to be used on them.

Joseph Mertens

One adage I live by is TANSTAFL. There are detrimental side effects.

Daniel Harbin

If this drug is authentic it would be highly useful for astronauts on lenghty space flights and assignments on the space statione. Due to 0-g environment the muscles and bones break down due to their lack of use. This is what the in-place bicycle and other exercise equipment are in heavy use in the space station.

This drug's mimicing physical ecerising could be used to keep the body's bones and muscle in working order while in a 0-g environment.

Stephen Morbley

@Joshua Castilleja

Hey, Joshua !

Want to know what it's like to exercise when you have arthritis?

Wrap barbed wire around you left ankle, loosely, put on your shoes, and then start jogging !

If this drug or genetic therapy can restore muscle tone to people that can't exercise, it will be a gift from God; and lower health care costs too.

William Carr

The future will be a competition with top trained athletes taking pills in addition to training. Mutants-olympic?

Fredrik Haugen

A bulb that shines half as bright lasts twice as long. This is a uniform quantum reality.

Post a Comment

Login with your Gizmag account:

Related Articles
Looking for something? Search our articles