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BC awards drug review contracts, some to UBC's Therapeutics Initiative

The provincial government has awarded three out of five contracts to review the evidence on drugs to members of the Therapeutics Initiative at the University of British Columbia.

The contracts will be for up to $50,000 annually each and will be paid as services are provided, instead of as a lump sum. UBC faculty leading teams include TI members Ken Bassett, Vijaya Musini and Barbara Mintzes.

"Those who have stated that the Therapeutics Initiative is being eliminated or that we are bowing to industry pressures are completely wrong," said Health Minister Colin Hansen in a press release. "Three members of the TI successfully applied to our RFQ and I am pleased that we will continue to rely on their expertise as well as bring in the expertise of the other two successful reviewers."

The other two contracts went to Debra Kent and Roy Pursell at the B.C. Drug and Poison Information Centre and to Aslam Anis and Stirling Bryan at Providence Health Care Research Institute and the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute.

The future of the TI has been in question since 2008 when then health minister George Abbott struck a pharmaceutical task force with heavy drug industry representation that in its report recommended replacing the agency.

The TI previously received a total of $1 million a year from the government. It will continue to receive $550,000 a year to provide two services besides the drug reviews, a ministry spokesperson said, so it will have a total budget of up to $700,000 and the government will be spending up to $800,000 on work the agency previously did.

The remaining $200,000 will be spent on other parts of the drug review process, a ministry spokesperson said, including increasing the membership of the Drug Benefit Council, paying for the clinical practice review and for the patient input website.

Federal Conservative, Liberal and NDP MPs are scheduled to talk about the TI at a Jan. 24 luncheon in Vancouver.

Update, 4:40 p.m.: That the government continues to rely on members of the Therapeutics Initiative shows just how good the internationally respected agency is, said NDP leadership candidate Adrian Dix, who as health critic has been among its most vocal defenders.

"[The Liberal government] continue to weaken it rather than strengthen it," he said. Reinstating the TI to its former place in the drug review process and expanding it, as he would do, would improve public health care, improve doctors' prescribing practices and save money, said Dix. "Instead the provincial government has essentially given into the pressure of the pharmaceutical industry."

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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