25 April 2017

Rodchenkov’s development of turinabol test raises further questions*

Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, Director of the Moscow and Sochi 2014 anti-doping laboratories, developed the science behind the test for turinabol (dehydrochloromethyltestosterone) used by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to retest samples given at the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympics. Through its retesting programme, that test has been used to identify approximately 80 adverse analytical findings (AAFs) for turinabol, approximately 35 of them involving Russian athletes. That means that turinabol accounts for around 70% of the 111 anti-doping rule violations (ADRVs) the IOC has reported through its retesting programme to date (exact numbers are difficult to report, as some athletes reported an AAF for more than one substance, and some athletes reported more than one AAF).

As outlined in part two of the Independent Person (IP) Report produced for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) by Richard McLaren, Rodchenkov and his assistant Tim Sobolevsky discovered a new method for the detection of turinabol that increased its detection window from a few days to up to six months after it was last used. Their 2011 paper, ‘Detection and mass spectrometric characterization of novel long-term dehydrochloromethyltestosterone metabolites in human urine’, was published in The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in February 2012.

‘Since Dr. Rodchenkov was instrumental in the development of new testing methodologies, which he knew would be implemented in other WADA accredited laboratories after the London Games, he knew that the long term metabolites of oral turinabol and other prohibited substances supplied by the Russian coaches could soon be detected in retesting’, reads p74 of Part Two of the WADA IP Report. In fact, he warned Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko (then Minister of Sport) and the FSB about the situation.

‘Dr. Rodchenkov would later to tell Minister Mutko that if the London samples were ever reanalysed, the Russian Team would be in trouble and predicted that Oral Turinabol, Oxandrololone, Methasterone, Drostanelone and GW1516 would be found to be present’, reads p77/8 of Part One of the WADA IP Report. ‘Dr. Rodchenkov also wrote a report (see attached Exhibit) to the FSB [Federal Security Service] expressing that same conclusion’. That appendix to the IP Report has since been removed, as names and contact details had been clumsily erased.

In the letter, Rodchenkov warns of the ‘danger’ from samples of blood and urine stored at the WADA-accredited Lausanne laboratory from the Beijing 2008 Olympics. He says that re-analysis of those samples would be a ‘disaster’, because prior to 2015, oral turinabol could only be detected for five to seven days. From 2015, it could be detected for four to six months.

Through his research paper, Rodchenkov knew that there were detection dangers with turinabol in 2011, yet his letter suggests that it took until 2015 to develop a useable test. Yet in 2013, he told an Inside Sport investigation into use of the drug: “With this detection method, a hundred urine samples have now tested positive that would previously have turned up negative”. Cologne laboratory analyst Hans Geyer told the German TV programme: “By my count, we have hundreds of positive cases that we would otherwise never have found”.

Dr. Rodchenkov hasn’t explained his motivations for publishing his research into turinabol. Through his 2011 paper, he explained how turinabol could be detected up to six months after use, yet Russian athletes were still testing positive for the drug at the London 2012 Olympics. At first glance, it appears odd that the systemic doping programme outlined in the WADA IC and IP Reports would continue to use a substance when the ‘mastermind’ behind the programme had both published and publicised research into how it could be detected.

Part Two of the WADA IP Report has an answer for this. ‘While appearing to be at the forefront of the development of doping detection science he was secretly developing a cocktail of drugs with a very short detection window, colloquially known as the “Duchess,” to assist athletes to dope and evade doping control processes’, it reads. The ‘Duchess’ refers to a cocktail of three steroids – metenolone, oxandrolone and trenbolone – dissolved in alcohol to speed up absorption and shorten the detection period, which Rodchenkov claimed to have used on athletes ahead of the London 2012 Olympics. ‘In other words, he was simultaneously improving the doping control system while using that knowledge to undermine its efficacy and integrity. The same activity functioned simultaneously to ostensibly “protect” clean athletes and further advance the Russian doping conspiracy,’ continues the WADA IP Report.

Mutko recently cast doubt on the testing methods for turinabol developed by Rodchenkov. “Most violations are currently detected according to a technology designed by a former head of Russian lab”, the Deputy Prime Minister told Russian State news agency, TASS. “Turinabol tests are his invention. Currently, a number of athletes filed lawsuits against his method. The outcome is unclear, but certain experts believe that this test will find turinabol even in coffee.”

It is true that in December last year, laboratory directors contacted by the Associated Press (AP) expressed concern about how the research was conducted, given that it was produced by two employees of the ‘tainted’ Moscow laboratory. However, they all also told AP that the findings of Rodchenkov’s research had been upheld by subsequent work elsewhere. WADA also told the news agency that Rodchenkov’s method of detecting turinabol was a ‘validated method’.

On the face of it, Mutko’s comments appear to go against the International Association of Athletics Federation’s (IAAF) requirement for an ‘appropriate official response’ to the allegations against Russia, as they suggest that its athletes have been unfairly sanctioned using a flawed testing method. However, the situation does raise a number of important questions:

• When was the new turinabol test developed by Rodchenkov first used?
• How has the turinabol test been independently verified?
• If Russian doping was under the control of the Ministry of Sport, why did Rodchenkov publish and publicise his 2011 research into turinabol, if that would put the doping programme under threat?
• If Russian doping was under the control of the Ministry of Sport, then why were Russian athletes still testing positive for turinabol at the London 2012 Olympics, six months after his research paper was published in February 2012? 

These are questions likely to be asked by the “number of athletes” referred to by Mutko who have filed lawsuits in connection to turinabol AAFs. The Sports Integrity Initiative has asked the IOC for more information on how the turinabol test was developed. If it is correct that a large number of AAFs have been processed on the back of a test developed by Rodchenkov – and that test is flawed as alleged by Mutko and others – then the IOC could face similar issues with turinabol to those encountered in processing ADRVs involving meldonium and clenbuterol.

* The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) later confirmed that although Dr. Rodchenkov had developed the science behind the test used to detect new metabolites of turinabol, the test had not been developed exclusively by Dr. Rodchenkov, and other laboratories had validated the detection method he developed. To view WADA’s comments, please click here.

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