Altitude Training In A Simple Pill

Summit of Everest

Not too far off in the distant future, you may be able to simply pop a pill or two to prepare your body for the demands of higher altitudes. Two different drug companies, GlaxoSmithKline and Astellas Pharma, are competing to deliver a pill that will boost your body's production of red blood cells, just as if you were at altitude. 

Developed with anemic patients or those with other circulatory problems in mind, the new drug mimics your body's response to hypoxia, or low oxygen levels, by increasing the natural production of EPO in your kidneys. Depending on the dosage, the drugs mimic the effects of between 5,000 ft – 15,000 ft, meaning you could acclimate to Everest Base Camp even before arriving in Nepal, be ready to hit the slopes on your next Colorado ski holiday, or get a leg up on the competition for your next local cycling race. 

Mike Allen, head of urology and nephrology at Astellas, said the new drug marked a major advance compared to EPO, since it did not raise blood pressure, a major concern with EPO. Other advantages include oral delivery versus injection, and the drugs do other things that support the action of EPO, including facilitating the absorption of iron.

The $8 billion drug treatment market for anemia and related illnesses is currently dominated by Amgen's Epogen (anyone else find it ironic they sponsor the Tour of California?). Both GSK and Astellas hope to steal a large portion of that pie, especially with a pill that may do away with the life threatening side effects. 

The drugs are currently in Phase II and Phase III clinical trials, so have many hurdles yet to jump before they become commercially available. However, GSK has already informed the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) of their experimental drug, known only as GSK 1278863.

I am assuming the bio passport tests will quite easily pick this one up. What do you think- would you pop one of these pills to help you better acclimate to altitude? Is it any different than taking Diamox or what dangerously appears to be the current favorite- Epinephrine?

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