Anti-Doping Research Inc., which oversees the non-profit Equine Drug Research Institute in California, has developed a test for CERA, a blood-doping agent.
Like the test developed for human competitors, the test for horses successfully detects CERA in plasma after the drug has been administered intravenously, ADR officials said in a release. ADR was founded by chief executive Dr. Don Catlin, founder of the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory.
Catlin, at the 2005 Jockey Club Round Table conference, announced he was doing work for the equine industry in the area of developing tests for drugs. The equine industry kicked in with an effort to initially raise about $3 million.
“We are proud of this development,” Catlin said in a statement. “If implemented, this new test can close a major testing loophole and help eliminate the use of one of today’s most powerful doping products in equine sports.”
CERA, short for the brand name Mircera, is one of the newest members of the erythropoietin family of drugs referred to as biosimilars or erythrocyte stimulating agents. Such drugs are prohibited in human and equine competition and are said to enhance performance.
EPO, a commmon blood-doping agent, is detected through out-of-competition testing, meaning horses are tested on days other than race day. It is used in various states and also for horses that participate in the Breeders' Cup World Championships.
ADR officials said CERA was developed by the Swiss research-focused healthcare company Roche to help patients with certain kidney diseases and anemia. Like other blood-doping agents, it boosts red cells in the blood so they deliver more oxygen to muscles.
The drug lasts longer and requires fewer injections than EPO. Human competitors have recently tested positive for CERA, and it is widely believed the drug is being used as a performance-enhancer in equine sports, officials said.
ADR said its study was conducted on horses, one treated mature female Thoroughbred and 10 healthy Standardbred control horses, using two methods based on two different principles: a rapid, automated, chemiluminescent immunometric or Immulite assay and an isoelectric focusing, double-blot test. Both tests detected CERA in the samples collected from the treated horse at different times after the administration of CERA, while the samples from the 10 control horses were negative. The Immulite test, intended as a screen, gives numerical results for a large number of samples very efficiently, while the IEF-DB test, intended as a confirmation test, provides a definitive visual pattern after a 2-3 day process.
“What is particularly satisfying and worth noting is that the inexpensive Immulite tests were sufficient to detect even small amounts of CERA in horses,” Dr. George Maylin, head of the Equine Drug Testing and Research Program at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University and a co-author of the report, said in a statement.
The announcement of the CERA test came in a peer-reviewed article published in the recently released August issue of the quarterly scientific journal Comparative Exercise Physiology. Others who participated in the development of the test and contributed to the article include Dr. Sabrina Benchaar, Sandra Neades, and Miranda Timmons of ADR, and Professor Kenneth McKeever of Rutgers University in New Jersey.
The EDRI and members of the equine community provided funding for the CERA research, officials said.