Ivar Kalvins, the medicinal chemist who first synthesized meldonium in the 1970s, vehemently disagrees with WADA’s decision to ban the use of meldonium. Kalvins considers WADA’s actions criminal since meldonium is a harm reduction drug that can potentially reduce the death rate in elite athletes who push their bodies to the limits in training.
“It’s a violation of human rights,” Kalvins said. “The sportsmen should be able to protect their health. We are living in an era of evidence-based medicine, so there are not any other new data supporting the ban.”
Kalvins is the chair of the scientific board of the Latvian Institute of Organic Synthesis in Riga. He created meldonium for the Latvian pharmaceutical maker Grendiks who markets the drug under the brand name Mildranate. Mildranate is a source of national pride for Latvia as one of the country’s most profitable medical exports. In 2013, Grendiks sold 65 million euros worth of meldonium largely to Russia and other Eastern European countries.
“The ban on the drug is a crime,” Kalvins told the Russian news agency TASS. “We are surely to see the rate of deaths of professional athletes after competitions climb. Who will be responsible for that? Certainly, not WADA people. They will be throwing hands up in confusion. The blame will be placed squarely on the athletes for breaking the limits. Their decision strips the athletes of a chance to protect themselves and stay alive.”
“The formula has been on the market for 32 years. And all of a sudden it is blacklisted. Fine, just fine. The athletes have been punished for their wish to go on living,” said Kalvins.
Kalvins has offered to help any of the over 100 athletes who been suspended for using meldonium this year including the world’s most famous meldonium user, Maria Sharapova. Not only does Kalvins think WADA’s meldonium ban prevents athletes from using a very important harm reduction tool, he also thinks there has been insufficient research on how long it takes the body to eliminate traces of meldonium from the system.
Since meldonium only became “illegal” for athletes to take on January 1, 2016, this lack of data is significant. There is no drug threshold meaning that the detection of any quantity of meldonium is sufficient for an adverse analytical finding. If it takes weeks for the drug to clear the system, an athlete could have legally ingested meldonium for the last time on December 31, 2015 and still tested positive for the drug a couple of weeks later in January
“WADA has blacklisted it as a prohibited formula, but nobody knows for how long it may stay in the human body. Nobody has ever conducted research into this matter yet,” Kalvins said. “There had been no need for such research. Clearly, it may be not hours, but days, or possibly weeks. It all depends on the accuracy of the method of testing. You may identify the traces of medications you took three months ago, provided you have the equipment that is sensitive enough.”
Kalvins has provided one likely defense strategy in which many athletes will seek to have their meldonium suspensions overturned upon appeal. Unfortunately, Sharapova will be unable to utilize this strategy since she already admitted using meldonium after the ban went into effect on January 1, 2016.