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Province restores funding to Therapeutics Initiative

The provincial government has restored funding to the Therapeutics Initiative, a program launched in 1994 by the University of British Columbia to provide unbiased information about new prescription drugs.

The future of the Therapeutics Initiative (TI) was cast into limbo after the provincial government suspended funding in Sept. 2012. The health minister at the time, Margaret McDiarmid, announced the RCMP were investigating allegations related to potential conflicts of interest, contracting and responsible data management.

The investigation was prompted by an anonymous tip to the Auditor General, according to a government official. Those allegations led to the termination of four ministry employees and the suspension of three others.

One of those fired, 46-year-old Roderick MacIsaac, was found dead in his home four months later. A coroners' report ruled his death a suicide, noting that he "had been experiencing significant personal stress. . . related to occupational and academic matters that had arisen in his life."

The BCGEU is pursuing a grievance process on behalf of two employees, and four filed wrongful dismissal and defamation claims against the government.

Bill Warburton, a health and labour economist, who was contracted "to conduct complex data analyses at the Ministry of Health," also filed a lawsuit against the government in May, claiming that "research related to the Contracts. . . had the potential of disrupting financially significant payments to large pharmaceutical companies, many of whom were major contributors to the Liberal Party who formed the government in the Province."

Earlier this month, an advocacy group called Canadian Doctors for Medicare launched a national campaign to reinstate government funding for the TI, which had been able to continue in the interim thanks to funding from UBC.

A press release issued today by the health ministry states that the province would reinstate its contract with UBC's Therapeutics Initiative, and restore secure data access to external health researchers "after taking steps to strengthen the security of health information at the ministry. . . "

The ministry press release detailed steps taken, on the recommendation of Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham and consulting firm Deloitte, to strengthen the security of health information. They include mandatory privacy and data security training for ministry managers and executives, better tracking of who is accessing data, and random audits of how researchers are using ministry data.

The Therapeutics Initiative contract is worth $550,00 per year, in addition to clinical evidence reviews worth $150,000 per year.

NDP leader Adrian Dix called the announcement "a real victory."

"The Therapeutics Initiative has been targeted by successive premiers' officers and a big and powerful pharmaceutical lobby," he said. "The fact that the Therapeutics Initiative is viewed as a real treasure here in B.C. and internationally is really valuable."

Colleen Kimmett is an editor at The Tyee.

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