In Canada, the government of British Columbia has announced that it is reinstating funding for an independent drug evaluation body that advises officials about which drugs should be made available through the provincial drug plan, PharmaCare.

Funding for the Therapeutics Initiative, which is managed by members of the University of British Columbia (UBC)’s Faculty of Medicine, was stopped in September 2012 after a Health Ministry investigation begun in March of last year reported that researchers were accessing personal health data without authorisation and sharing it improperly. Medical information on at least 38,486 residents of the province had been compromised, it said.

Following the investigation, reviews of the Ministry’s data security and access was undertaken by the province’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, and also by the consulting firm Deloitte.  The Ministry said this week that it has accepted all the recommendations resulting from these reviews and that they are now being implemented. It added that it has restored its contract with the Therapeutics Initiative, which will “once again provide health professional education and Pharmacare programme evaluation work for the Ministry.”

The contract is work C$550,000 a year and is in addition to payments made to UBC drug researchers, totalling up to C$150,000 a year, to conduct drug evaluations for the Ministry.

The decision has been welcomed as “good news” by Gavin Stuart, dean of the UCB Faculty of Medicine, who said: “it means stronger patient protection through evidence-based evaluations of new drugs. It is critical for our researchers to have access to health care data.”

The contract resumes “with enhanced oversight, strengthened accountability and more robust protection of patient information,” says the University.

Following the investigation, seven pharmaceutical researchers working at the Ministry were fired, and they then all filed lawsuits claiming wrongful dismissal. The subsequent death of one of the researchers was reported to be suicide.

Until 2003, the Therapeutics Initiative had been the only independent body reviewing clinical evidence for drugs being considered for BC PharmaCare coverage. Then in 2003, the Common Drug Review was created, as an independent pan-Canadian drug review process to support greater consistency and reduce duplication of effort among the provinces when considering the addition of new drugs to their formularies. Following the BC Ministry’s latest decision, the Therapeutics Initiative will once again review those drugs not examined under the Common Drug Review.