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What, exactly, is Actovegin?

December 15, 2009 |  5:20 pm

The drug made a media debut today when it was reported that Canadian physician Anthony Galea, who has previously treated Tiger Woods, is under investigation by the FBI for giving athletes performance-enhancing drugs.

According to news reports, Galea was arrested Oct. 15 by Canadian authorities – officials said they had earlier found human growth hormone, Actovegin and two other drugs in a medical bag in his assistant’s car. Actovegin, which is essentially calf’s blood extract, has been used in the treatment of circulatory disorders but has not been approved for sale in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration.

Actovegin isn’t really one of your known quantities – there’s no mention of it at the FDA website. By contrast, “human growth hormone” turns up more than 2,000 hits. It’s sold by Nycomed, a Swiss-based company. From the product description:
Actovegin® produces an organ-unrelated increase of the cellular energy metabolism. The activity is confirmed by measurement of the increased uptake and of the elevated utilization of glucose and oxygen. These two effects are coupled and they result in a rise of the ATP-turnover and thus in a greater provision of energy in the cell.

“We don’t have it on our books,” said Karen Riley, a media officer with the FDA. “It would have to go through an FDA approval process, and I don’t have any record of that product.”

One might begin to suspect that calf blood extract is another way of saying "snake oil," but wait ...ClinicalTrials.gov turns up one hit – a recent trial related to polyneuropathy, or nerve malfunctions in the extremities. It was performed under Russian authority, in Kazakhstan.

Why is it on a U.S. site devoted to clinical trials? “I don't know, I was surprised to see it,” Riley said.

Want to find out if all your prescriptions pass muster? The FDA provides some guidelines here.

-- Amina Khan

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