EXCLUSIVE

Jobe Watson

Admission: Essendon captain Jobe Watson says he has taken AOD9604. Photo: Getty Images

Essendon captain Jobe Watson and several teammates were used as human guinea pigs by the club, receiving injections or infusions of banned drug AOD9604 in volumes and at a frequency far exceeding its clinical trials.

Fairfax Media can reveal that the Australian Sports Anti-doping Authority is investigating whether the physical performance of Essendon players given certain supplements, including AOD9604, was measured against teammates who had not received the drugs and whether results were passed to external parties.

Essendon's investigator, Ziggy Switkowski, termed it a ''pharmacologically experimental environment''. An unknown number of players is understood to have been regularly injected with AOD9604 - which is not approved for human use - for several months last year.

Scientific documents obtained by Fairfax Media show the Melbourne company which holds worldwide patents for AOD9604, Metabolic Pharmaceuticals, conducted four Australian human clinical trials to determine its safety and effect as an anti-obesity medication.

In one of the trials, the drug was delivered intravenously and participants were given AOD9604 just three times and the average dose ranged between 9.7 milligrams to 58.2 milligrams. The trials found the drug to be safe at that frequency and volume but ineffective as a fat-buster. There were 118 adverse events, three of them severe.

Watson's admission last week that he was injected with AOD9604, which is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency because it is not approved for human use, has fuelled debate about possible player sanctions and Brownlow medal revocation. However, the issue causing greater concern is that of player welfare.

Documents show that some AOD9604 trial participants reported a euphoric effect. An international patent was filed in 2003 to develop the drug as an antidepressant. The reported euphoric effect raises questions about whether the repeated injecting of AOD9604 in Essendon players posed the risk of addiction.

Essendon's former sports science chief Stephen Dank has stressed he never gave anything harmful or illegal to the players. But no one from Essendon has explained yet why fit young men would need a failed anti-obesity drug or extracts of pigs brains - the drug cerebrolysin - used to treat dementia.

Contacted by Fairfax Media on Friday, Dank denied measuring the effects of various drugs in Essendon players and said he was unaware of any information being passed to external parties.

Metabolic chief executive David Kenley has previously said his company had no financial link to Dank and in April said he had been surprised when the sports scientist told him last year he was using AOD9604 at Essendon to aid player recovery. ''I wasn't sure it was the right environment,'' Kenley told Fairfax Media in April. ''At that stage we had no firm animal data to indicate that it could work in a human in ways that he wanted.''

Fairfax Media has not seen any evidence to suggest a financial link between Dank or Metabolic. Metabolic said yesterday it had given Dank no incentive to use AOD9604 at Essendon. Nor has evidence been produced to suggest information on the performance of Essendon players given certain supplements was passed to external parties.

Documents lodged with the Australian Stock Exchange last year by Metabolic's listed parent company, Calzada, show the company had lodged patent applications covering AOD9604's use in cartilage and muscle repair at the same time as the drug was being used at Essendon.

The patent applications came after Metabolic received results of Canadian testing in animal cells that showed AOD9604 ''has a positive (anabolic) effect on cartilage tissue formation'', the company told the ASX.

Internal Metabolic emails from 2011 obtained by Fairfax Media show the company was trying to gather all data related to AOD9604's effect on muscle cells. Its executives were excited by the drug's popularity in the body-building scene and the big sums being earned by Chinese black market manufacturers.

Dank last year helped to arrange for Essendon chairman David Evans, who runs an investment broking firm, and coach James Hird, a trained stockbroker, to receive a stockbroker briefing on the company's prospects. Essendon Football Club said it had no knowledge of any such trial. ''The club has no knowledge of any 'clinical trial' and if this is found to be true, it is deeply distressing and disturbing, and goes to the heart of what may have been perpetrated at our club.

''We are in the hands of ASADA and we continue to support our players during this process and we have brought in independent medical and pharmacological advice which has provided comfort to the club about the safety of our players.''