Israeli researchers are claiming that they are on the way to developing drugs that can “turn off the hunger switch” in the human brain, The Times of Israel reported on Thursday.
A receptor in the brain, melanocortin 4 (MC4), has already been identified as the so-called “hunger switch.” But now a research team at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot say that their work will make it possible to manipulate the receptor, or turn the switch off.
“It’s a switch activated by a hormone that our body secretes, which can be turned on and off,” said Dr. Moran Shalev-Benami of Weizmann. “We’ve shown exactly what it looks like and outlined all of its molecular details.”
Pharmaceutical companies have been racing to make drugs that control MC4, but with mixed results and side effects.
The first drug of its type, setmelanotide — sold under the brand name Imcivree — was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in November for overweight patients, but side effects noted included nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.
“Now that we know the precise molecular details of the switch, we can use this to target it very precisely and design drugs that can avoid some of the side effects that have been encountered with this first drug,” said Shalev-Benami.
She said their immediate focus is on helping people with genetic conditions directly affecting MC4 but said that in the long run the knowledge being gained could also pave the way to a drug to help ordinary dieters.
“If we can get rid of side effects and manipulate this receptor without interfering with other receptors and causing side effects, this could help the general population of people struggling with weight loss,” she said.