In Canada, the Liberal provincial government of British Columbia "suddenly" halted drug safety studies which could have proved harmful to a number of drugmakers that have made "major" donations to the party, a law suit alleges.
The suit was filed this week in the Canadian province's Supreme Court in Victoria by Dr Bill Warburton, who was under contract with the province's Ministry of Health to investigate the effects of atypical antipsychotics. His contract was terminated following an investigation at the Ministry begun in March 2012 which reported that researchers were accessing personal health data without authorisation and sharing it improperly. Medical information on at least 38,486 provincial residents had been compromised, it said.Following the investigation, a number of researchers lost access to key health information and seven Ministry employees were fired, four of whom have sued for wrongful dismissal. They include Dr Warburton's wife Rebecca, who was co-director of research and evidence development in the Ministry's pharmaceutical services division.
Dr Bill Warburton's civil claim - which has been brought against the province and its Health Minister, Margaret MacDiarmid - says that his research "included investigation of harmful side-effects, including mortality, and risk assessment of drugs purchased by the province through its programmes, and had the potential of disrupting financially significant payments to large pharmaceutical companies."
It goes on: "the Liberal Party was receiving significant contributions from these drug companies, and the province was eliminating drug safety programmes that could cause restrictions on sales of the products of these drug companies." These actions included ending drug analysis programmes such as Dr Warburton's and of the Therapeutics Initiative at the University of British Columbia (UBC), it adds.
The Therapeutics Initiative is an independent drug watchdog established at UBC, which has since 1994 provided evidence-based analysis of prescription drugs to clinicians, pharmacists and the province's PharmaCare prescription drug programme. However, in September 2012, its work was suspended as a result of the Health Ministry investigation, and last month the Ministry informed it that its funding would end, although it is reported that the University has decided to continue paying the researchers until the matter is settled.
The Initiative's annual funding had in fact been dwindling since 2011, when it was cut from C$1 million a year to C$850,000, then dropping to $550,000 in April 2012 before being stopped altogether last month.
However, the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) has pledged that, if elected, it will not only restore the Initiative's funding but also increase it to $2 million a year.
But Ms MacDiarmid said the NDP should not be making such pledges before the results of the investigation are known. She added that, that during the investigation she had never been told about any evidence that "any large or small pharmaceutical company was in any way involved" in the suspension of drug review work by the Initiative or other researchers.
Dr Warburton's law suit denies that he had attempted to obtain inappropriate access to provincial health data, and says that the province's acts against him "are part of a bad faith programme by the defendants to end the investigation of harmful effects of drugs which risk leading to diminishing payments to their political contributors."
The BC Health Ministry has said that it will respond to Dr Warburton's suit within the next three weeks.