Developing the next generation of performance enhancing drugs. Should we?

Anabolic steroids, human growth hormone and other PED’s have dominated the sport’s landscape for the past decade. While governing bodies must decide how best to police & regulate such technology, the industry is on the hunt for the next generation of such products. A new alternative to controversial anabolic steroids would build muscle by mimicking the effects of the hormone testosterone without the side effects. Human growth hormone is also frowned upon because of side effects and questions about whether it can increase strength. But what if the industry could develop a better, safer way to deliver the same results?

Companies like GTx and Ligand Pharmaceuticals are developing drugs called selective androgen receptor modulators, or Sarms. These Sarms can potentially deliver the muscle-building qualities of HGH or steroids without side effects. On a different tack, Pfizer, Amgen and Acceleron Pharma are separately pursuing drugs that block myostatin, a protein made by the body that acts as a brake on muscle formation. The proof can be found in cattle raised in Belgium. Belgian Blue cattle, which do not make myostatin, have huge, rippling muscles and yet are otherwise apparently healthy. Several years ago, scientists reported that a German boy who lacked myostatin because of genetic mutations had abnormal strength and muscle mass.

Most of the drugs have been tested in only early-stage clinical trials so far, and there have been many setbacks. Wyeth, now part of Pfizer, dropped a myostatin inhibitor that did not work well in a muscular dystrophy clinical trial. Amgen last month called off a trial to test its myostatin blocker for age-related muscle decline. Merck withdrew from a partnership to develop GTx’s drug.

But those companies all say they are not giving up on the quest. And, while these technologies all have potential clinical applications not related to performance in competitive sport, there is certainly a moral boundary. But apparently not one strong enough to hinder the natural progression of technology & science.


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