ILPEP - Illegal peptides and proteins

Last updated on 14-12-2022 by Pierre Daubresse
Project duration:
January 2, 2015
December 31, 2018

In short

Illegal proteins and peptides are a growing problem that has an impact on both lifestyle drugs (eg doping peptides) and life-saving drugs (eg insulin). It goes without saying that illegal lifestyle peptides pose serious health risks since they are most likely not produced in a controlled environment. That is why it is crucial to develop (bio) chemical strategies to evaluate the danger associated with the use of such products in order to make the sometimes ignorant user aware of this.

Project description

The last 30 years have been marked by an awe-inspiring evolution of insight into human physiology, which has led to a major development of medicines. A small but steadily growing part of this drug market consists of recombinant proteins and peptides.

A prescription for injecting these substances is required in most Western countries, but some are easily available through illegal internet pharmacies, disguised or not as “research companies”. For many of these peptides, knowledge about the effects and / or side effects (long and short term) is limited or even non-existent, since the clinical studies have not yet been completed, or even worse, they have received negative advice as they have potentially negative effects on health. An additional danger with regard to the use of these illegal polypeptides also lies in the fact that these injectable preparations were not produced in a controlled environment.

To evaluate the hazard associated with the use of injectable illegal polypeptide preparations, an abundance of (bio) chemical analytical techniques and strategies were developed and used. This is to identify and measure the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API), API-related impurities and chemical and / or biological impurities present in various preparations of the 10 most popular peptides (among the Belgian population).


All in all, our results indicate that these illegal preparations sometimes contain the following:

  • the wrong dosage
  • a large amount of API-related impurities (e.g. cysteine-containing peptides)
  • pathogenic bacteria (e.g. presence of a hemolytic strain of Bacillus cereus in 2 of 100 samples)
  • heavy metals and / or metalloids (e.g. presence of toxic amounts of arsenic).

They can all cause serious health problems.

Our data clearly show the danger of purchasing and using potentially stimulating substances through the black market and can hopefully be used to create awareness among the sometimes ignorant users.

These results have been published in various scientific journals (see below).

Sciensano's project investigator(s):

Service(s) working on this project


Bart De Spiegeleer
Steven Janvier

Financial Source

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