Drugs in Sport: How should the Pharma Industry Respond?

Niamh Madigan

Last week  the media once again glared  into the world of disgraced cyclist,  Lance Armstrong, after his admission on the Oprah Winfrey Show that he did in fact take unauthorised substances throughout his cycling career and more specifically in the 7 Tour de France tournaments he competed in and won.

The BBC also stated that “the American cyclist revealed he took performance-enhancing drugs in each of his Tour wins from 1999-2005, but said doping was ‘part of the process required to win the Tour’.”

One has to raise the question as to what changes can be made in the Pharma industry to prevent such fiascos occurring on the world stage of sport.

Pharma and Biotech companies are best placed to assess the possible doping effects of pipeline substances and to encourage anti-doping authorities to take much-needed preventive action. And what about the role and responsibility of regulatory agencies, should we question their standards as they authorise the marketing of these substances?

While Pharma companies strive and spend years working on innovative medicines  to cure patients, it is a well known fact that some of these are misused. A report by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) recently stated, “while the misuse of well-established products is well known and detection methods are often available, medicines in pre-clinical or clinical development are very attractive options to cheating athletes and their entourages because authorities are less aware of them and there is a delay in the implementation of detection methods.” ( Taken from ‘2 Fields, One Goal: Protecting the Integrity of Science in Sport’ by the IFPMA)

So the question lands at the doorsteps of the Pharma companies,  are they being innovative enough to strengthen oversight of their compounds and help in addressing the public health concern and mitigate doping of their products?  Perhaps more communication and partnerships are required between the Pharma and Biotech companies with organisations like the World Anti-Doping Authority ( WADA) to help identify products with potential abuse risks.

Meanwhile all will end well for our Prince Lancelot in this tale – his overdue admission  will soften hearts, because deep down we all like to see the bad guy turn good. When he’s paid all his dues and received some public pardon, he will go on to rebuild a career. But how many more Lance Armstrongs are to come, taking glory away from those sportsmen that truly deserve it and not forgetting the scientists who strive to save lives and not sabotage sport?

 Niamh Madigan


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