Experts perplexed over why Sharapova was taking banned heart drug

admin   •   March 10, 2016   •   2316

Mar 7, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Maria Sharapova speaks to the media announcing a failed drug test after the Australian Open during a press conference today at The LA Hotel Downtown. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Mar 7, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Maria Sharapova speaks to the media announcing a failed drug test after the Australian Open during a press conference today at The LA Hotel Downtown. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The medicine Maria Sharapova says she has taken for 10 years due to a family history of heart issues and diabetes is an old drug sold in just a few Eastern European countries that can also boost exercise tolerance.

The tennis star tested positive for the banned drug meldonium, or Mildronate, in a sample taken on January 26, the day of her Australian Open quarter finals defeat to Serena Williams.

She 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.

The 28-year old Russian, a five-time grand slam champion and the highest paid woman in sports, will be provisionally suspended starting March 12, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) said.

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.

LATVIAN DRUG

Meldonium is cheap and available over the counter without a prescription in some eastern European countries, where it is marketed as Mildronate by the Latvian pharmaceutical firm Grindeks (GRD1R.RI).

The drug, originally developed by scientists at the Latvian Institute of Organic Synthesis, is not licensed by two of the world’s biggest medicines regulators: the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States where Sharapova trains, and the EU’s European Medicines Agency.

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A spokeswoman for Grindeks said the firm had not applied for a license for Mildronate from either the FDA or the EMA, but said the drug is registered in Latvia, Lithuania, Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union.

She said it is designed to treat patients with certain cardiovascular diseases, including angina, chronic heart failure, cardiomyopathy and other cardiovascular disorders.

Grindeks’ also promotes it for people with reduced working capacity from physical or psycho-emotional “overload”, and during recovery from cerebrovascular disorders, head injury and encephalitis. It is not indicated for diabetes.

Tim Chico, a consultant cardiologist at Britain’s Sheffield University, said it was unlikely that such a young and extremely fit woman would be suffering from a serious heart condition like angina, or would be able to play top level tennis if she were.

Asked how long the drug should be given to a patient, the Grindeks spokeswoman said in an emailed statement: “Depending on the patient health condition, treatment course of meldonium preparations may vary from 4 to 6 weeks”. Such courses could be repeated two or three times in a year.

In an emailed reply to questions from Reuters about her medical reasons for using the drug, Sharapova’s lawyer John Haggerty said: “While I cannot go into detail out of respect for the ITF process, I can confirm that Ms Sharapova had abnormal EKG tests in 2006 and was also diagnosed with asthenia (a lack of energy or strength), decreased immunity and diabetes indicators.”

“She also had a family history of heart conditions,” Haggerty said. “The Mildronate and the other medicines recommended by her doctor treated these conditions.”

Munir Pirmohamed, a professor of molecular and clinical pharmacology at Britain’s University of Liverpool, said the crucial issue with Mildronate for him is its lack of approval from EU and U.S. regulators.

“As a physician, this is not something I have, or would ever, prescribe,” he said.

Others noted it was rare for a doctor treating illness to prescribe a drug that is unavailable in the country where the patient lives.

“Sharapova has been a U.S. resident since early in her career, which does bring in a question of how or why she is using a drug that is not licensed there,” said Tom Bassindale, a lecturer in forensic science at Sheffield Hallam University.

Sharapova’s agent Max Eisenbud was not available at his Miami office and did not immediately reply to an email seeking comment.

HELPS MUSCLES COPE

Whatever its medical benefits, research suggests Mildronate may have potential as a performance-enhancing drug for sports.

It reduces the level of a metabolite called carnetine in muscles, and by doing that helps muscles cope better with high levels of stress and low oxygen levels.

“Because it effects the cellular metabolism, it would increase energy production within cells and therefore make oxygen utilization more efficient,” said Pirmohamed.

In a 2010 academic paper published in a review journal called Seminars in Cardiovascular Medicine and cited on the Grindeks company website, it has been shown to improve exercise tolerance in patients with heart problems.

The World Anti-Doping Agency, which banned the drug in January after previously having it on a “watch list”, ranks it as a prohibited metabolic modulator and cites “evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance.”

Grindeks says the drug could protect athletes from cell damage, but says it would be unlikely to improve their competitive performance.

It would be “reasonable to recommend (sports people) to use meldonium as a cell protector to avoid heart failure or muscle damage in case of unwanted overload,” the spokeswoman said.

Athletes “should not expect increase of physical capacity, but, for sure, they will be protected against ischemic damages of cells in case of overload.”

(Additional reporting by Ben Hirschler, editing by Peter Graff and Janet McBride)

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‘Cheater’ Sharapova should not be allowed to play again: Bouchard

UNTV News   •   April 27, 2017

Tennis – WTA Stuttgart Tennis Grand Prix – Maria Sharapova of Russia v Roberta Vinci of Italy – Stuttgart, Germany – 26/4/17. Maria Sharapova of Russia in action. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski

Canadian Eugenie Bouchard has lashed out at the WTA for giving Maria Sharapova the chance to compete in tournaments after serving a 15-month doping ban and said the Russian is a “cheater” who should never be allowed to play again.

Sharapova beat Italian Roberta Vinci in the first round of the Stuttgart Grand Prix on Wednesday after receiving a controversial wild card for the tournament, having lost all her ranking points in the wake of her suspension.

Sharapova was banned for two years after testing positive at the 2016 Australian Open for meldonium, a medication the former world number one had been taking within the rules but which was then reclassified as a banned drug.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport reduced her ban to 15 months, while finding Sharapova was not an “intentional doper” but “bore some degree of fault” for relying on her agent to check the prohibited list for changes and failing to ensure he had done so.

Bouchard, a 2014 Wimbledon finalist, told the Istanbul-based TRT World in an interview that a bad example had been set.

“She’s a cheater and … I don’t think a cheater in any sport should be allowed to play that sport again,” she said.

“It’s so unfair to all the other players who do it the right way and are true. I think from the WTA it sends the wrong message to young kids: ‘cheat and we’ll welcome you back with open arms’.

“I don’t think that’s right and (Sharapova is) definitely not someone I can say I look up to any more.”

Sharapova, who faces Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova in the second round in Stuttgart later on Thursday, has also received invitations to play in Madrid and Rome and will find out in May whether she will be given a wild card for the French Open.

(Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

Tennis: All eyes on Stuttgart as Sharapova poised for return

UNTV News   •   April 26, 2017

FILE PHOTO: Russia’s Maria Sharapova celebrates after winning her fourth round match against Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic at the Australian Open tennis tournament at Melbourne Park, Australia, January 24, 2016. REUTERS/THOMAS PETER

Not much fazes Roberta Vinci after 16 years on Tour but the maelstrom swirling around her opening match in Stuttgart against Maria Sharapova will test even the Italian’s vast experience.

Her 946th singles might ordinarily have been one to chalk off and forget about but standing over the other side of the net on Wednesday will be the former world number one on her return from a 15-month doping ban.

Whatever else is happening on any other tennis court in the world will become irrelevant as Russian multi-millionaire Sharapova, who turned 30 last week, resumes a career that made her the world’s richest sportswoman.

Debate still rages about Sharapova’s crime and punishment.

While some say the five-times grand slam champion, initially banned for two years after testing positive for Meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open, has done her time some fellow players are angry the red carpet is being rolled out.

With no ranking after such a long period without swinging her racket in anger, Sharapova could have been forced to work her way back from the lower rungs of the tennis ladder.

Instead, with tournament chiefs and sponsors well aware of her ticket-selling appeal she has been handed wildcards into the claycourt events in Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome.

It is not an arrangement Vinci approves of. “My personal opinion is (I do) not agree about wild cards… about Rome, about other tournaments,” she said in a press conference at the Porsche Arena in Stuttgart.

“She is a great player – I don’t have nothing against her. She made her mistakes for sure. She can return to play, but without wild cards. I know (Sharapova) is important for the WTA, for tennis, for everything. She is a great person, a great champion. My personal opinion is this.”

Former world number one Caroline Wozniacki and Agnieszka Radwanska have also cried foul, believing a player returning from a doping ban should have to do it the hard way.

Sharapova, whose defense was that she had not realized Meldonium had been added to a list of banned substances at the start of 2016, insisted the substance is as common as aspirin in Russia where it is known as Mildronate.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) agreed that Sharapova was not an intentional doper shortened her ban from two years to 15 months.

While admitting her mistake, Sharapova has hardly been full of contrition and has criticized the International Tennis Federation (ITF) for failing to notify her that Meldonium, a medication she said she had used for a number of years to treat health issues, had indeed been flagged up by WADA as ‘performance enhancing’.

Only last week Sharapova’s agent Max Eisenbud stoked the fires by saying the likes of Wozniacki and Radwanska were “journeyman” players hoping to benefit from Sharapova’s exclusion.

Sharapova’s prospective second-round clash in Stuttgart against Poland’s Radwanska could be an awkward encounter.

A decision is expected soon on whether the French Tennis Federation (FFT) will fast-track the 2012 and 2014 Roland Garros champion into the French Open draw. Her only other route is to win the Stuttgart title so that she can boost her ranking to enter French Open qualifying.

What adds intrigue to Sharapova’s return is that it comes at a time with the WTA Tour reeling from the news that world number one and 23-times major champion Serena Williams will not play again this year after announcing she is pregnant.

With twice Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova recovering from being stabbed, former number one Victoria Azarenka still to return from childbirth the cupboard looks a little bare when it comes to headline acts.

So while Sharapova’s might get a lukewarm welcome in the locker room there is no question the money men will welcome her back with open arms, not least Porsche.

The German sports car giant is the lead partner of the Stuttgart event and also sponsor Sharapova.  — By Martyn Herman | LONDON

(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

Sharapova banned for two years by ITF

admin   •   June 9, 2016

Maria Sharapova of Russia speaks during a news conference at the Brisbane International tennis tournament in Brisbane, Australia on January 1, 2013. REUTERS/DANIEL MUNOZ/FILE PHOTO

Maria Sharapova of Russia speaks during a news conference at the Brisbane International tennis tournament in Brisbane, Australia on January 1, 2013.
REUTERS/DANIEL MUNOZ/FILE PHOTO

The career of Russian former world number one Maria Sharapova was in tatters on Wednesday after she was given a two-year ban by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) following her positive test for the banned drug meldonium.

In a statement the ITF said the five-times grand slam champion’s ban would be backdated to Jan. 26 this year, meaning her results and prize money from the Australian Open, where she reached the quarter-finals, would be canceled out.

Sharapova, 29, said she would appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), describing the punishment as “unfairly harsh”.

She said an independent tribunal in London on May 18-19 had found that she had not intentionally violated anti-doping rules.

A 33-page report of the tribunal’s findings said: “The ITF accepts that the player did not engage in conduct that she knew constituted an antidoping rule violation,” but it rejected her assertion that there was no “significant” fault on her part.

“She was the sole author of her own misfortune,” it said.

On its website, the ITF said the ban, which could have been as long as four years, had been backdated due to Sharapova’s “prompt admission” of taking the substance, and would end on midnight of Jan. 25, 2018.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) later issued a short statement saying it would review the decision before deciding whether to use its independent right of appeal to CAS.

Sharapova has regularly battled back from serious injuries during her glittering career but the two-year ban means she will not be eligible to play until after the 2018 Australian Open when she will be 30, and raises the question of whether she will ever play again.

“If it stands, then I think it will be difficult for her to come back at the same level,” the president of the Russian Tennis Federation, Shamil Tarpishchev, told TASS news agency, calling for the penalty to be reduced.

TIME AND RESOURCES

Meldonium was added to WADA’s list of banned substances at the start of the year after mounting evidence that it boosted blood flow and enhanced athletic performance.

Around 180 athletes have tested positive for the drug, manufactured in Latvia and common throughout eastern Europe, since January.

Sharapova, the world’s highest-paid female athlete, stunned the sporting world in March when she announced that she had tested positive for meldonium, a component of a product named Mildronate which she has taken since 2006 for health issues.

At the time Sharapova, the highest-profile tennis player to fail an anti-doping test, said she had made “a huge mistake” in failing to realize that continuing to take Mildronate would be a violation of the anti-doping code.

“The ITF spent tremendous amounts of time and resources trying to prove I intentionally violated the anti-doping rules and the tribunal concluded I did not,” she said on Facebook.

The ITF had sought a four-year suspension but the tribunal rejected that, she said.

“While the tribunal concluded correctly that I did not intentionally violate the anti-doping rules, I cannot accept an unfairly harsh two-year suspension.”

The tribunal found that Sharapova had taken Mildronate before each of her five matches at this year’s Australian Open where she lost to Serena Williams.

It rejected Sharapova’s argument that the ITF should have informed her that she and a number of other tennis players had tested positive for meldonium in 2015 before it was added to the banned list.

“CONCEALED”

The report also said that Sharapova had not made her use of Mildronate known to most of her team, including her coach, her trainer, her physiotherapist and her nutritionist, nor any of the doctors made available to players by the WTA.

Questioning why she continued taking Mildronate before matches, the report said: “In the tribunal’s view the answer is clear. Whatever the position may have been in 2006, there was in 2016 no diagnosis and no therapeutic advice supporting the continuing use of Mildronate.

“If she had not concealed her use of Mildronate from the anti-doping authorities, members of her own support team and the doctors whom she consulted, but had sought advice, then the contravention would have been avoided,” it said.

The ban will have an enormous impact on Sharapova’s earning potential.

Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer cut its ties with Sharapova after the news of her doping violation while other sponsors such as Porsche distanced themselves from her.

Nike however, said on Wednesday they would continue to work with Sharapova.

“The ITF Tribunal has found that Maria did not intentionally break its rules,” the sports apparel giant said in a statement. “Maria has always made her position clear, has apologized for her mistake and is now appealing the length of the ban.”

Sharapova has 35 WTA singles titles and has won all four of the sport’s grand slam titles.

Her career earnings amount to $36 million while her off-court earnings, according to Forbes, are around $200 million.

(Editing by Clare Fallon and Robin Pomeroy)

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