B.C. Liberal government poised to scrap Big Pharma watchdog
British Columbia's Therapeutic Initiative -- a 14-year-old government funded agency that provides independent advice on prescription drugs -- may be replaced by the B.C. Liberal government.
The agency has a stellar reputation. Its warnings on unsafe prescription drugs have saved hundreds of lives. And its recommendations on less expensive but equally effective generic alternatives to brand name drugs have saved the provincial government's drug plan hundreds of millions of dollars.
The Therapeutic Initiative's work has received positive review from sources such as the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine and the B.C. Auditor General.
But things changed last year when Health Minister George Abbott convened a panel of his own. Three representatives of the drug industry were included. They certainly brought a different perspective. The panel recommended killing the Therapeutics Initiative, on the grounds it is "narrow, insular and resistant to meaningful stakeholder engagement." Narrow and insular, of course, are exactly what a watchdog agency is supposed to be. Resisting the influence of the pharmaceutical industry is its job.
Then last week, the other shoe fell. The ministry invited a group of "multi-lateral stakeholders" to hear the government's response. The Therapeutics Initiative is to be replaced and the new body's staff will not be appointed by an academic institution. They will all be chosen by the minister.
At that meeting, the pharmaceutical industry had a dominating presence. Of the 52 agencies in attendance, 37 were drug manufacturers or retail outlets. The power of this lobby is considerable.
Two of the drug companies on the minister's review panel, and almost half those at the stakeholder meeting, have given money to the Liberal Party of B.C. In the last three years, those financial contributions total more than $170,000.
More on this at The Tyee.