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by Robert MacKay, Tuesday, February 19, 2013 | Categories: Obesity

Every now and then we hear about a specific gene that may be the key for developing a condition. Although this type of reporting tends to simplify complex disorders and the specific processes required for them to develop, it also often highlights some specific areas worthy of additional attention within research. One protein that has been considered in various studies by both GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Palatin Technologies is the so-called MC4 receptor.

The MC4 receptor, which has been linked to erectile dysfunction and insulin resistance in the past, is also known for being the most consistent finding in genetic research on early onset obesity. There appears to be some evidence that MC4 has a role in the regulation of metabolism and some individuals may have several mutations of this receptor. The current view suggests that the more mutations of the MC4-receptor, the higher the risk of developing obesity.

Given the complexity of how the MC4-receptor works, there have been no successful studies to date that have developed an obesity treatment that could be safe for humans to use. Specifically, within studies that have centred on the use of drugs that directly activate MC4-receptors there have been some concerns about increasing blood pressure (we have previously written about Bremelanotide, which falls into this category). However, in an attempt to potentially circumvent the blood pressure risks, GSK has utilised a different strategy where the researchers would rely on so-called positive allosteric modulators to activate the MC4-receptors rather than activating them directly.

In contrast to what has been reported by some news outlets, the treatment GSK is seeking to develop would not be an all-round cure for obesity. Instead, it would be a treatment to manage the obesity some individuals have developed due to a genetic vulnerability. No matter how pleased we are to hear that medical companies are pursuing obesity research, we cannot stress enough that a genetic vulnerability does not mean that environmental factors can be ignored. Developing obesity occurs as a result of a multitude of factors, but the most common cause is that energy consumption over time is greater than energy expended. No matter what medications are developed to assist weight loss in obese patients, we cannot pretend that a lifestyle change is not essential for most people who are obese.

It is unlikely that the treatments GSK is developing will be on the market within the near future. The study itself is expected to run for 3 years and once the findings have been published further clinical trials will be needed to establish the safety of the treatment and corroborate the study’s findings.

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