The blood-enhancing drug EPO has improved the lives of millions of anemia patients, but Lance Armstrong and other top cyclists have turned the medicine into a byword for doping.
Now, a growing number of pharmaceutical companies are trying to prevent their drugs from meeting the same fate by joining with anti-doping officials to develop tests to detect the illegal use of the drugs among athletes.
Two major drugmakers, Roche and GlaxoSmithKline, have begun evaluating every new drug candidate for its potential to be abused by athletes and have agreed to share information about those products with the World Anti-Doping Agency, known as WADA, which polices drug use in international sports.
The development reflects a significant shift from the days when drugmakers paid little attention to how their products could be abused by athletes, said David Howman, the director general of the anti-doping agency. In the past, drugmakers “felt that any publicity in relation to anti-doping control would be negative," he said. “But what they discovered is the opposite happened."
Instead of shying away from such stories, Roche and Glaxo have promoted their involvement as an example of good corporate citizenship. Last year, Glaxo went so far as to sponsor the testing laboratories for the London Games, the first time in Olympic history that an anti-doping laboratory had a named corporate sponsor.
Pauline Williams, who leads the team at Glaxo that runs the anti-doping initiative, said the cooperation with WADA grew out of that sponsorship.
“What the London 2012 involvement led to was a real pride and willingness, and a positive attitude toward this continued engagement," she said.