Police find range of drugs after trawling bins used by Tour de France cyclists

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 13 October 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b4201
  1. Paul Benkimoun
  1. 1Paris

    France’s antidoping agency has uncovered “a surprising therapeutic arsenal,” including two drugs that are not yet licensed, after scrutinising bins in the wake of the 2009 Tour de France.

    Michel Rieu, the scientific adviser of the French Agency Against Doping (Agence Française de Lutte Contre le Dopage), said at a press conference on 7 October, “These are incongruous products in a milieu where people are supposed to be in good health.”

    Professor Rieu said that this “surprising therapeutic arsenal” had been reported to the World Anti-Doping Agency in July.

    The agency said it suspected that some cyclists were using blood transfusions and two unlicensed substances.

    Pierre Bordry, head of the agency, told the French daily Le Monde on 28 July that he was “convinced that two new products have been used during the [2009] tour, two drugs that are not yet on the market.”

    The first is a “third generation” erythropoietin called Hematide, which helps maintain stable haemoglobin concentrations—fluctuating haemoglobin being a sign that an athlete has taken banned substances. Hematide is still in phase III clinical trials for the treatment of anaemia and is not expected to reach the market before 2011.

    The second compound, known as Aicar, increases performance of endurance exercise and decreases adiposity.

    Exercise performance in sedentary mice treated with Aicar is 44% better than that in control mice, as if they had undergone training (Cell 2008;134:405-15, doi:10.1016/j.cell.2008.06.051). Aicar has a short half life after intravenous administration and poor bioavailability after oral ingestion.

    A spokeswoman for Affymax, which makes Hematide, said it was unaware of the drug being used to enhance athletic performance and that it was working with the World Anti-Doping Agency to ensure that the drug is used only for its intended purpose.

    She said, “We share its [the agency’s] founding principle that doping endangers the health of athletes and undermines the integrity of sports. We place a top priority on patient safety. As such, we have established robust quality control processes to regulate inventory and to satisfy global quality standards for the worldwide conduct of clinical trials.”

    The French antidoping agency wanted to run another round of tests on some samples collected from cyclists during the 2009 Tour de France, but the samples “belong” to the International Cycling Union, which did not grant it authorisation. In early October the agency’s laboratory in Chatenay-Malabry, near Paris, started to reassess some of the 2008 samples, which it does own.

    In a previous round of tests on the 2008 samples the agency discovered that four of six cyclists who were caught doping used a new erythropoietin called continuous erythropoietin receptor activator. Retested samples from another 17 riders came back clean, it announced on 7 October.

    However, the same day Mr Bordry restated his criticism of the union, which it had accused of “preferential treatment” in favour of the Astana team, which includes the 2009 winner, Alberto Contador, and Lance Armstrong.

    Mr Bordry expressed his frustration with the International Cycling Union. “We can have questions, but we can’t go beyond that,” he said, referring to the denial of the agency’s requests for access to the 2009 samples. Mr Bordry declined to comment on whether his agency intended to run tests to detect Hematide and Aicar next year.


    Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b4201