Maria Sharapova

Creator of Sharapova drug “quite sure” other top athletes using it

The creator of meldonium drug tennis star Sharapova tested positive for defends what has otherwise been a beacon of Latvia’s scientific research.

RIGA, LATVIA (MARCH 10, 2016) (REUTERS) – The Latvian creator of banned drug meldonium said on Thursday (March 10) that he was “quite sure” other top athletes can — and should — use it.

Latvia expressed sadness on Wednesday (March 9) over the banning of the drug that has cast a pall over the career of tennis star Maria Sharapova, describing it as “one of the most significant accomplishments” of the tiny nation’s scientists.

The five-time grand slam champion has revealed she tested positive in January for the drug meldonium, which its Latvian inventor once said had been used to toughen up Soviet troops fighting at high altitudes three decades ago.

Latvia, a Baltic nation of under 2 million people that won independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, is relatively unknown to outsiders apart from visitors who use the capital Riga as a destination for partying.

So meldonium, which is marketed as Mildronate by the Latvian pharmaceutical firm Grindeks, is a source of some national pride.

Scientist Ivars Kalvins invented the drug in mid-1970s when Latvia was still a Soviet republic. Kalvins told the local newspaper Diena in 2009 that it had been used to boost troops’ fighting stamina in the 1980s. At that time Soviet forces were battling insurgents in Afghanistan.

Meldonium, which is available cheaply over the counter without a prescription in the Baltic states and Sharapova’s native Russia, is normally used to treat heart conditions such as angina.

But the drug, which boosts blood flow and may enhance athletic performance, was banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) as of January 1. Sharapova said she had missed an email informing her about the ban.

While some experts were perplexed over why Sharapova was taking a banned drug, Kalvins said that Mildronate has been on the market for 32 years before its sports ban — and that many top athletes should be using it.

“I am quite sure that a lot of athletes at the top level are using Mildronate — and they should use Mildronate to protect themselves in case of overloading. Because if there is overloading then the cardio muscle, cells will die out because [of the] lack of oxygen there. In the case of using Mildronate these cells will survive. And this is like an insurance, insurance that sportsman will not die on the field of their sport event,” he said.

Sharapova has said her family doctor had first given her the drug 10 years ago after she frequently became sick, had irregular electrocardiogram results, a magnesium deficiency and a family history of diabetes.

“If [tennis player Maria] Sharapova would not [have] used Mildronate for 10 years, probably she would be stressed to discontinue her career five years ago, or four years ago or six years ago, who knows,” Kalvins said.

“This is not increasing performance, but an insurance if you will go over the border of allowedness, you still will be kept healthy,” he added.

For the health conditions Sharapova says she has, however, doctors say the scientific evidence for Mildronate is limited compared with many medicines widely available in Europe and the United States, where Sharapova trains, which have full regulatory backing and years of robust safety and efficacy data.

Kalvins says he has not yet seen the scientific, clinically tested proof that Mildronate should be banned as doping.

“If there is no scientific evidences or scientific background, why it happens after 32 years of being on market with the safest cardio-vascular cardio protector, now then there is only another option – there are some political reasons for it,” he said.

Kirovs Lipmans, chairman of Grindeks and its biggest shareholder, said use of the drug did not constitute doping and he criticised the government for not defending its reputation against WADA.

Government officials said WADA was acting independently and they could not influence its decisions.

Grindeks is seeking to register Mildronate in China, and Lipmans said he would like to see it also registered in the future in western Europe. The company has said it was looking to diversify its sales as its revenues in Russia were hit by the fall in rouble.