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Doctors urge premier to save BC drug watchdog

A national campaign to restore funding to a unique B.C.-based pharmaceutical watchdog has caught the attention of the prestigious British Medical Journal.

On Oct. 2, Canadian Doctors for Medicare released an open letter, signed by other national and international health groups, urging Premier Christy Clark to restore funding to the Therapeutics Initiative.

The initiative was launched in 1994 by the University of British Columbia and the provincial health ministry at the time to provide health practitioners and policy makers with unbiased information about new prescription drugs.

"Over the years it has gained much respect in the global academic community for its work," writes Barbara Kermode-Scott in the article published in the British Medical Journal today.

"For instance, in 2002, the group examined the scientific evidence for rofecoxib (Vioxx), and concluded that the risk of heart attacks and other harmful effects outweighed any benefits associated with this medication. Two years later, the drug was pulled from markets around the world."

The Therapeutics Initiative has been under threat since 2008, when the provincial government, following a report from a pharmaceutical task force stacked with people connected to the industry, cut its budget.

In July, The Tyee obtained a letter from UBC's dean of medicine stating that:

"Last September, as a result of government's investigation into data access and suspension of project funding, research activities related to the TI were interrupted. In the absence of funding from the Government, UBC has continued to pay TI faculty and staff in order to protect the integrity of the unit.

"Nine months have passed and unfortunately, with no indication of any resolution in the near future, UBC and the Faculty recognize that it is no longer tenable to continue accumulating deficits related to the initiative. We are working now on mitigating, to the extent we can, the impact on UBC faculty and staff involved with this initiative."

Health Minister Terry Lake denied at the time that his government had indeed cancelled funding but said "some contracts have been suspended."

Vanessa Brcic, a board member of Canadian Doctors for Medicare, told the British Medical Journal that "the international support for the Therapeutics Initiative speaks to the global movement towards evidence-based, cost-saving health policy that is in the best interest of governments, patients, and health providers alike."

Colleen Kimmett is an editor at The Tyee.

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