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Health Committee to review pharmaceutical rep's bias on research board

A motion passed today will see the federal Health Committee conduct a review of the controversial appointment of a senior official from a major pharmaceutical company to the board of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the government agency that oversees health research in Canada.

Dr. Bernard Prigent, vice-president and medical director of Pfizer Canada, a branch of the world’s largest pharmaceutical company, was appointed last month to the CIHR’s governing council.

Prigent’s appointment to the position has stirred concerns over his obvious conflict of interest on the board of the organization responsible for the allocation of research funding across the country.

“There’s no place in our scientific organizations like CIHR for a drug company official,” said NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis, who raised the issue today in Ottawa.

“It’s shocking that this government appointed the vice president of the biggest brand name drug company in the world, to the board of the CIHR which is supposed to be a body of independents and scientific endeavors free from any ties to industry at all.”

Wasylycia-Leis said Prigent’s obvious bias as the first industry representative to ever be appointed to the board raises serious questions about the independence of decisions that will come from the CIHC, and is concerned they will reflect the industry’s agenda, rather than the public interest.

In October, CIHR president Alain Beaudet said that he hopes to create closer ties with industry, to ensure that they sit at the same table at the precompetitive level, help industry succeed, and encourage them to invest.

But Wasylycia-Leis says asking them to sit on the board is one step too far.

“There is already ample consultation with industry going on as it is. Some of that is warranted,” she said. “But I certainly don’t think there’s any place ever for a pharmaceutical representative or a food manufacturer or any member of industry on the board of the CIHR which is supposed to be there setting public interest health research priorities and not the objectives of the pharmaceutical industry or any other private sector.”

The Health Committee’s review of Prigent’s position is tentatively set for November 30, where critics will have the chance to question the government on the appointment, and report to parliament any recommendations given by the committee.

Christine McLaren reports for The Tyee

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