EPO pioneer to sponsor Tour of California
November 2, 2005
WASHINGTON (AFP) - Sponsorship of top cycling races has taken a new twist with the news that the world's biggest producer of EPO (erythropoietin) - arguably cycling's most abused drug - is to sponsor the Tour of California.
According to reports here Wednesday biotech firm AMGEN - who boast more than two billion dollars in annual sales - will be the title sponsor for the February race.
AMGEN pioneered the manufacturing of recombinant EPO. Originally created to help people with cancer or kidney problems, its use as a huge boost to endurance athletes was quickly recognized at the start of the 1990's.
EPO is banned by cycling's world ruling body and has been the UCI's (International Cycling Union) biggest enemy.
The hormone, used by millions of people around the world as a medicine, boosts the red blood cells, allowing further oxygenation of the muscles which can then work for longer and recuperate better.
The drug was famously 'outed' when the Festina doping scandal at the 1998 Tour de France almost brought the race to its knees.
AMGEN says its sponsoring of the Tour of California, a minor race by European standards, is motivated by its awareness of the inappropriate use of its product.
"We believe we have a responsibility to ensure that the medicines we develop are used properly," AMGEN scientific director Steve Elliott told USA Today.
"It is always disturbing to find out that an athlete would abuse a drug intended to save someone's life."