US researchers have developed a medicine compound that will mimic the benefit of exercise, an advance that may help people with hectic schedules and unable to work, or those who are lazy.

The compound, named SLU-PP-332, currently tested in rodent cells, was found to “recapitulate exercise’s ability to enhance muscle cells’ metabolism and growth, along with improved muscle performance”, said researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

A drug that can mimic these effects may also open up new treatment options for people with muscle atrophy and other medical conditions including heart failure and neurodegenerative disease.

“We cannot replace exercise; exercise is important on all levels,” said Bahaa Elgendy, the project’s principal investigator and a Professor of Anesthesiology at the varsity.

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“If I can exercise, I should go ahead and get physical activity. But there are so many cases in which a substitute is needed,” she added.

The potential pill can also counter the effects of other drugs, such as new weight-loss medications that cause the loss of both fat and muscle, Elgendy said.

Elgendy said exercise typically activates specialised proteins, known as oestrogen-related receptors (ERRs), which come in three forms: ERR-alpha, ERR-beta, and ERR-gamma.

In the study of about 15,000 genes in cells from rat heart muscle, SLU-PP-332 was found to activate all three forms, including the most challenging target, ERR-alpha.

The new compounds also prompted a greater increase in the presence of RNA — a measure of gene expression — suggesting they more potently simulate the effects of exercise.

The results will be presented at the ongoing spring meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).