Inventor defends safety, questions ban on Sharapova drug
The Latvian inventor of the banned doping drug meldonium has insisted it is safe even after Maria Sharapova originally picked up a doping ban, and questioned whether authorities were justified in listing it as a performance enhancer.
Russian tennis superstar Maria Sharapova had her ban reduced to 15 months on appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport on Tuesday and is now targeting an April 2017 return.
Her positive test for meldonium in January 2016 less than a month after the drug had been placed on a doping list saw the now 29-year-old Russian pick up an initial two-year ban from an independent tribunal of the International Tennis Federation.
Inventor Ivars Kalvins, 68, of Latvia’s Institute of Organic Synthesis, told AFP that the medicine also known as Mildronate is “the safest cardio-vascular drug in the world”.
The drug, manufactured in Latvia, dates from the Soviet Union in the 1970s. It is used to treat ischaemia, a lack of blood flow to parts of the body.
The increase in blood flow it produces could improve endurance and recovery time after exercise.
Kalvins told AFP “there is no evidence that Mildronate would correspond to the three requirements needed to include a medicine on the list of banned substances”.
“Nobody has demonstrated that it is an enhancer or performance booster. The only evidence is anecdotal.
“If they want to say it is a booster there should be clinical evidence -– but it does not exist.”
Sharapova maintained she took the drug for health reasons, and not as a performance enhancer, and was unaware it had been banned by doping watchdogs at the start of the year.
Meldonium sales have more than doubled in Russia since Sharapova admitted to taking the substance, which is not available in Western Europe or the United States.
Kalvins said he suspected the ban could have been connected to the July 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil.
“The reason (for the ban) mainly is that the Olympic Games are coming,” he said at the time.
“Some of the competitors will be excluded from the competition,” he correctly predicted in an interview with AFP.
Asked by AFP whether he thought the ban was created to prevent Russian athletes from competing at the Olympics, Kalvins said: “I think so.”
Kalvins also said China was manufacturing the drug.
“You can read it in their literature -– publications in China about clinical trials published by Chinese military hospitals… They told me the army used it,” he told AFP.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) said on March 11 it had recorded 99 positive tests for meldonium since January 1.
WADA moved meldonium from its “monitored” to “prohibited” list at the start of 2016 “because of evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance.”