Health researchers say they are baffled by the B.C. Liberals’ clampdown on pharmaceutical data.
“We haven’t been told anything,” Dr. Colin Dormuth told the Straight. “We’ve offered to meet and sit down with the ministry and answer questions and do anything that would help resolve this. They’re just not communicating with us.”
Dormuth discussed how the Therapeutics Initiative, the independent UBC–based pharmaceutical watchdog of which he is a senior member, is being denied crucial data and suffering from successive budget cuts.
According to a 2008 TI study, 95 percent of physicians and 92 percent of pharmacists surveyed stated that the unbiased, evidence-based reviews of drugs that the TI provides led to changes in the way they prescribe or recommend drugs.
Yet, in mid 2012, TI researchers found they were locked out of an invaluable government network that tracks how prescription drugs are used in B.C. Then, in September, the B.C. Ministry of Health issued a media release stating it was suspending “data sharing with drug and evidence development researchers”. Finally, in April of this year, TI members learned that the provincial government had eliminated funding for their program, which has run since 1994.
Dormuth said that at no point have they received any explanation for those actions.
The Ministry of Health and the B.C. Liberal party have refused the Straight’s repeated requests for an interview with Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid, who is also a Liberal candidate for Vancouver Fairview in the May 14 provincial election.
In response to a request for comment on the cessation of funds for the TI, ministry spokesperson Ryan Jabs sent the Straight an email about an ongoing investigation into how some ministry staff shared pharmaceutical data. That inquiry has so-far resulted in the firing of seven ministry employees, none of whom are members of the TI. Pressed on how that controversy is linked to the defunding of the TI—if at all—Jabs refused to say.
The Liberals’ lock on pharmaceutical data is being felt across the country.
Dr. David Henry, an investigator for CNODES, a national research body that studies the benefits and side effects of newly approved drugs, told the Straight that B.C. is the only major province not supplying the organization with data.
“We have not been told why in words or concepts that we can understand,” Henry said. “That is both surprising and disappointing, because the B.C. data is critical to this national initiative.”
Henry described the matter as an issue of “public safety”.
Alan Cassels, a drug-policy researcher at the University of Victoria, said that health professionals can only guess why the province is restricting access to pharmaceutical data and defunding programs like the TI.
“If you were interested in stopping drug-safety evaluations in B.C., this is exactly what you would do,” he said. “Cut off data access for all the evaluators who were doing it, and then stop funding for the people who carry out this kind of work.
“Who is benefiting from this?” Cassels asked.