GlaxoSmithKline provides lab for drug testing at Summer Olympics

Being the United Kingdom's largest pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline is all in when it comes to the Summer Olympics, which open Friday in London.

Sunday's Inquirer story is here.

Glaxo will not do actual testing of urine and blood samples, but it contributed a drug-testing laboratory in Harlow, Essex, along with equipment and expertise, worth about 20 million pounds, which converts to about $31.3 million.

Glaxo has several connections to athletic drug-testing organizations.

The World Anti-Doping Agency is the organization that tries to coordinate efforts to thwart the use of performance enhancing drugs in Olympic sports. (American professional sports leagues such as Major League Baseball and the National Football League are world unto themselves.)

Osquel Barroso is a senior manager for science with WADA. Barroso's WADA biography says he has quite the international background. He was born in Havana and studied radiochemistry at Moscow State University. He earned a master's degree and PhD in England and then went to work for GSK.

Dr. Richard Clark is a member of the board of directors of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). But his day job is with GSK at Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, where he is director of discovery medicine in the metabolic therapeutic area. According to his bio, he received his masters degree and Ph.D. at the University of Washington in Seattle and also did research in endocrinology and metabolism at both Emory University and Duke University Schools of Medicine.

The International Olympic Committee and local organizing committee are responsible for drug testing at each Olympics, though WADA assists. This is the first Olympics in which a private pharmaceutical company was allowed into the mix. Rather than writing a check as other sponsors often do, GSK gave the laboratory.

USADA's Science Director, Matthew Fedoruk, is Canadian and helped Vancouver set up its drug-testing facility for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

"The local committee has financial pressures involved in constructing facilities and the lab falls in with that," Fedoruk. "The London organizers chose the route of sponsorship. GSK has access to lab space and that is at a premium at Kings College London. You need lab space that is big enough to process a greater number of samples over a shorter period of time."

Kings College London's Drug Control Centre is respected in athlete drug-testing circles. The GSK facility is the size of seven tennis courts.

Asked if there was any concern about having a pharmaceutical company being involved, Fedoruk said he assumed the London organizers did their homework to avoid potential conflicts with GSK drugs that might be on banned lists for athletes. "You just have to do your due diligence," Fedoruk said.

There are 240 banned substances. Some of them are perfectly appropriate for medical use when prescribed by a doctor, and athletes can apply for waivers. But through the years, athletes - and sometimes their coach or sponsoring organization or national Olympic program - have tried to skirt the rules of fair competition.

Steroids are the group of medicines most recognized by fans as being illegal in sports, but others are used. While the drug testers are getting better, the drug cheaters are always trying to stay ahead to win, or profit from making drug cocktails.

As one WADA official, David Howman, said in 2011, “We are catching the dopey dopers but not the sophisticated ones.”