IOC reviews Actovegin
Updated: Thursday February 15, 2001 9:30 PM
LONDON (AP) -- Two months after declaring Actovegin a banned substance, the IOC is reconsidering its position on the drug at the center of a Tour de France investigation.
The International Olympic Committee is uncertain whether Actovegin enhances performance and has asked for further study to determine if it should be prohibited, IOC medical director Patrick Schamasch said Tuesday.
The IOC medical commission will rule in April, he said.
"It's still in a gray area," Schamasch told The Associated Press by telephone. "For the moment, if we want to go by a very strict definition, it may be banned. But we don't want to accuse anyone without having more information."
The IOC announced in December that Actovegin, an extract of calf's blood, was banned under the classification of blood-doping agents.
But the IOC, at an executive board meeting last week in Dakar, Senegal, softened its stance.
Actovegin came to international attention late last year when French judicial authorities opened an investigation into whether the U.S. Postal Service team of Lance Armstrong used banned drugs during the 2000 race. Armstrong, who came back from testicular cancer, won the tour for the second straight year.
Paris prosecutors began the investigation after receiving an anonymous letter saying suspicious behavior had been detected the tour. A TV crew noticed two men dumping plastic bags that contained compresses, packaging from foreign products and medicine, including Actovegin.
Actovegin is manufactured by the Norwegian company Nycomed. The substance has been suspected of improving the circulation of oxygen in the blood in a manner similar to the banned drug EPO, or erythropoietin.
But Schamasch said Tuesday that Actovegin apparently does not transport oxygen.
"The explanation of the manufacturers is very vague," he said. "We have asked for more investigation to find out why athletes are taking a product which cannot transport oxygen, to find out if it has any other special effect."
The IOC said a number of teams brought Actovegin with them to last year's Sydney Olympics, thus raising suspicions that the product could be used for unethical reasons.
The IOC is working with the world governing body of cycling to make a definitive ruling on Actovegin. "According to the IOC medical code, we are entitled to ban a product either if it is performance enhancing and/or harmful to the health of the athletes," Schamasch said.
Armstrong and the U.S. Postal Service team have repeatedly denied using banned drugs.
U.S. Postal said its team doctor had been authorized by the French medical control board to bring Actovegin into the country for the race.
The doctor said the drug was on hand for treating severe skin abrasions caused by crashes, and for use by a staff member with diabetes. None of the team's nine riders used Actovegin, the team said.
French police have asked cycling's governing body for access to blood samples taken from Armstrong and other team members during the race. U.S. Postal Service has approved the testing.
French investigators are also analyzing frozen urine samples taken from the riders.