D’ohpe!

One of the doctors responsible for the EPO study in 1987 was a guy by the name of John W. Adamson, a hematology professor at UC San Diego. Since he's still teaching, I emailed him to find the source of his funding. He told me that the bulk of the trial was paid for by a grant from the National Institute of Health, which is a division of the US Department of Health and Human Services, and Amgen, the drug company, provided some financial support in addition to the drug (which is called Epogen).

The use of US tax dollars to pay for medical research shouldn't raise any eyebrows. There is one interesting thing to note about Amgen, though. They happen to be the title sponsor of an annual event in California called (no surprises here) the Amgen Tour of California, a nine day, 800 mile bicycle race from Sacramento in northern California down to Escondido near the Mexican border. When Amgen signed a three year sponsorship deal in 2005 to get their name in the title of the race, they predictably came under criticism for flaunting the fact that their product had been the drug of choice for doped up bicyclists since the end of the eighties. An article which ran in the LA Times in November of 2005, entitled “Critics balk at Amgen cycle race sponsorship,” pointed out that AEG, a giant sports entertainment firm and owner of the Staples Center in LA as well as the LA kings, had invested $35 million dollars in the Amgen Tour of California in an attempt to make it “the second best cycling event in the world” after the Tour de France. Given the high profile of the Tour of California, does Amgen have a stake in the performance of the cyclists in this race? Yes. But is this evidence totally incriminating? Maybe not. In the article, a spokesperson for Amgen admitted that the sponsorship did seem ironic, but that they intended for the sponsorship to give them

a platform [they] could use to speak out against blood doping and to educate people on proper uses of the company’s drugs….”We believe misuse of our medicines is not only inappropriate but unsafe, and we want to help stamp it out.”

According to a Modesto press release in January of this year, the 2008 Tour of California adopted “the most comprehensive anti-doping protocol in cycling history,” with full screenings of all competitors before the race, then daily screenings of the current leader, the leg winner, and three randomly selected riders. So the questions remain; is Amgen telling the truth? Or is there still wheeling and dealing going on behind the scenes while their spokespersons point the other way?

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