SARMS – another class of new doping compounds

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Cycling has again thrown itself into the spotlight for the wrong reason, doping.  A selective androgen receptor modulator (SARM) called ostarine has been detected in the urine from a cyclist, so what are these SARMS?


In the first of a series of posts I will be looking at new doping compounds and the future of drug testing (first started on the post about GW1516).  I anticipate around 3-4 posts over the next month, with other posts interspersed.


Last week it was announced that the Russian cyclist Nikita Novikov was suspended from competition following the finding of the breakdown products of Ostarine ( hydroxy-ostarine and O-dephenylostarine) in his urine sample.  This is a molecule most will not have heard of and shows again that cyclists are willing to experiment with using new drugs to gain an edge.  In this case however they were not the first to be caught using SARMS, as there have been several previous cases.

Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators (SARMs) have been developed to replace steroids by being more cunning than the steroids can be.  ‘Classical’ and/or endogenous steroids may also be known as anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS), the name giving away the properties.  Anabolic is a term which refers to muscle growth, this is one of the desired effects for sports people. Androgenic means the development of male sexual characteristics such as libido, aggression and male pattern hair growth.  Abuse of these drugs has led to many people suffering healthwise, with effects such as steroid acne, male pattern baldness and (my favourite word) gynaecomastia (meaning male growth of breast tissues).  The SARMs have been developed to be able to separate out the types effects and produce only the desirable ones (depending on the treatment required).  For sport people this would usually mean the ability to keep or grow muscle mass without the unwanted side effects and without any water retention or fat gain.  They are also developed to be able to be taken orally rather than by injection, which makes them easier drugs to use.

The World Anti Doping Agency recognised their potential for abuse and added them to the prohibited list (under S1 Anabolic Agents) in 2008.  The two main compounds that have been found and are advertised are known as Andarine and Ostarine (as used by the cyclist above).  Andarine (also known as S-4) and Ostarine (known as GTx-024 or MK-2886) are not licensed products as yet.  Ostarine is currently being actively developed by GTx as a treatment for muscle wasting in lung cancer patients. It has been reported that Andarine is no longer a target drug.  No products are currently approved for therapeutic use.

Within a few minutes I was able to find these online and it would not cost a great deal to buy a months supply (well within reach of even amateur sports people).  The ad’s for ostarine claimed to be able to grow skeletal muscle without any hirsuitism or virilisation, no mention of whether it has been found to be safe to use through clinical trials.

Testing methods have been developed and reported for these drugs, with several athletes having tested positive for Andarine.  Due to the chemical structure being very different from classical steroids it may have been believed that they would not be found in doping control samples, but tests have been developed and will continue to be so for any future targets.


These SARMS show a good example of athletes initially being one step ahead of the testers, but now having been caught back up.



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About Dr Tom Bassindale

Dr Tom Bassindale is a forensic scientist, and the founder of We Are Forensic. He is currently the subject lead for chemistry and forensic science at Sheffield Hallam University. He's managed hundreds of forensic toxicology cases, and is an experienced court witness. He has specialist expertise in forensic toxicology and drug testing in sport. And yes... he watches CSI.