Tour de France Brought to You By ... A Palo Alto Biotech Startup?

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Officially speaking, the Tour de France -- which finished Sunday in Paris -- was brought to you by sponsors Carrefour supermarkets, Skoda cars and Vittel bottled water. Behind the scenes however, the physiology-defying, mountaintop-finish action of the race through the Pyrenees and the Alps may have actually been brought to fans thanks to a relatively-unknown Palo Alto biotech firm.

So says Pierre Bordry, the head of the French anti doping agency, who believes new, undetectable drugs, such as Palo Alto-based Affymax Inc.'s dialysis drug Hematide, may have helped spur the action on Mont Ventoux.

Like the oft-abused doping product erythropoeitin (EPO), Hematide, which is currently undergoing FDA-required testing and has not been formally offered for sale,  is designed to help anemics by thickening their blood.

Last year, the supposedly-undetectable Tour de France drug of choice was the Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche's anti-anemia drug CERA, which offered "potent and sustained stimulation of red blood cell formation with longer dosing intervals." To athletes, fewer doses meant the drug might be less easily detected. But a series of news releases by drug testers led to the expulsion from the sport of some of the race's top riders.

"Needless to say, that like CERA and EPO last year, positive cases could be reported several weeks after the Tour," Boudry was quoted as saying in the French newspaper Le Monde.

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