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Roche: No marker in new EPO drug

Swiss pharmaceutical giant F. Hoffman-La Roche issued a statement Thursday disputing a recent claim by World Anti-Doping Agency chief John Fahey that it had inserted a “marker” in its new anti-anemia drug Micera.

The drug has been the focus of recent attention after Ricardo Riccò, Saunier Duval’s top GC hope at the Tour de France, tested positive for the drug following the stage 4 time trial at Cholet.

In an interview with Australian public radio on Wednesday, Fahey said that the pharmaceutical company had placed a molecule in the drug — known as a Continuous Erythropoiesis Receptor Activator (CERA) — in order to make detection easier by anti-doping officials.

“In the development of that particular substance, close cooperation occurred between WADA and the pharmaceutical company Roche Pharmaceuticals so that there was a molecule placed in the substance well in advance that was always going to be able to be detected once a test was taken,” Fahey said.

The company, however, said that while it had cooperated with WADA researchers, it had not altered CERA in order to make its detection easier. Indeed, the company said such a marker would not even be necessary.

“The fact is that Mircera is an innovative molecule that is both functionally and structurally different and it can be differentiated in samples from both naturally occurring erythropoietin and from all other traditional ESA products,” the company noted in its statement. “Roche has provided samples of Mircera and assay reagents to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to help ensure that WADA laboratories will be able to carry out reliable anti-doping testing.”

A WADA spokesman told VeloNews that there had been confusion surrounding reports of Fahey’s earlier comments.

“Mr, Fahey’s words may indeed have been misinterpreted,” WADA’s Frédéric Donzé told VeloNews. “No marker was inserted in the substance. Thanks to the fruitful cooperation of the manufacturer of this substance — Roche — and of WADA-accredited laboratories, which started in 2004, WADA received the molecule well in advance and was able to develop ways to detect it, including through the current EPO detection method.”

A spokesperson for California-based Affymax said last week that the company, too, was cooperating with WADA in developing a test for its new drug, Hematide, a synthetic peptide-based erythropoiesis-stimulating agent.

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