By Tim Maloney, European Editor
Could a new anemia drug called Cera from Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche could be replacing EPO in the peloton? Recently, Roche announced that an extension of a continued Phase II trial, which was a year-long study of 61 patients, showed Cera could be used in one dose every four weeks to control hemoglobin levels in patients undergoing dialysis. Hemoglobin is the protein that binds with oxygen in red blood cells. Cera works by stimulating red blood cell production, which is lower than normal in anemia sufferers. Francaise des Jeux team doctor Gerard Guillame gave an interview to Le Figaro where he talked about a new type of "explosive" EPO that passes through the system in only 24 hours.
Some new drug may be an easy answer for the reason for the record speed of this year's Tour de France, but Dr. Mario Zorzoli of the UCI is skeptical. "I wouldn't say that there's anything to suspect in this year's Tour", Zorzoli told Italian sports newspaper La Gazetta dello Sport. "It's actually the contrary. It's not that the riders [blood] parameters are at the limits; we've seen a general lowering of the values of many values, like haemoglobin, and haematocrit."
Regarding the supposed existence of a new, explosive EPO and the UCI doctor said "We've heard of EPO of human origin, but that's nothing new. There's a new protein called Cera that attaches to the receptors of EPO and has the same effect. It's not on the [pharmaceutical] market yet and it's not on the banned list yet, but in any case, we have the means to detect [it]. We've even tested for it, but have not found any."
Zorzoli concluded by debunking the idea of a new "explosive" EPO that passes through the system in 24 hours, saying "any kind of EPO, no matter how fast it passes through the system, changes other blood parameters. So it's detectable."