The World Anti-doping Agency (WADA) has been working with drug makers to develop new tests for potential performance enhancing drugs before they can make their way into the peloton, a spokesman told Cyclingnews on Thursday.
That fact became clear when news broke that Riccardo Riccò had failed a doping control at the Tour, and it was revealed that the drug which was found in his system was a third-generation EPO with the trade name Mircera. The drug, also known generically as CERA (Continuous Erythropoietin Receptor Activator), was only approved for sale in the United States last year (although patent disputes are blocking its distribution), and was made available in Europe at the start of 2008.
CERA is the latest form of EPO, and is similar to the previous drugs, except that it is connected to a chemical called polyethylene glycol (PEG), which makes it last longer in the body. The drug was rumoured to be blocked from the kidneys due to its size and therefore undetectable by urine-based doping controls.
WADA's spokesman, Frédéric Donzé, said that the news of Riccò's positive test "is a further indication that the net is closing on those athletes who still take the risk to dope."
Donzé revealed that the agency had worked with the drug's manufacturer, Roche Pharmaceuticals, to learn of new potentially performance enhancing agents and to develop tests for them before they can enter the market and be used by athletes.
"This case shows the significant work that WADA conducts in anticipating doping trends, including by closely cooperating with pharmaceutical companies at very early stages of the development of molecules or substances for therapeutic purposes to develop detection methods for anti-doping purposes.
"WADA is very much aware of the development of new EPOs and bio-similar EPOs in an expanding market," he said. "A number of these new EPOs and bio similar EPOs are well known and can be detected through current tests."
He was able to confirm that co-operation in the case of Mircera has enabled its detection by WADA-accredited laboratories. "Thanks to the co-operation of the manufacturer of this substance (Roche) and of WADA-accredited laboratories, WADA received the molecule well in advance and was able to develop ways to detect it.
"WADA will continue to further enhance its detection methods for EPO as it does with every test, in order to further maximize chances of catching cheaters."