B.C. smoking cessation program, Pfizer's Champix drug facing questions
'A lot of people think there's another agenda than just providing the drug': Pharma researcher
Questions are being raised about the research two of the fired B.C. health workers were involved in, including Christy Clark's highly-touted smoking cessation program and a controversial drug named Champix.
Roderick MacIsaac, the co-op student who took his own life, and Rebecca Warburton were researching the government program that prescribes drugs to help British Columbians stop smoking when they were fired in 2012.
- TIMELINE | B.C. health researcher firing scandal timeline
- Fired B.C. health researchers pen letter demanding inquiry
Pfizer's Champix, one of the drugs that the ministry was reviewing, has been linked to 44 deaths in Canada with side effects including psychosis and depression.
According to the Ministry of Health, 68,000 British Columbians have been prescribed the provincially-covered Champix through the smoking cessation program since 2011 and the sales have generated approximately $20 million for Pfizer.
The B.C. Liberal Party has received more than $40,000 in donations from Pfizer over the past ten years. Pfizer Canada says it "aims to have good working relationships with all levels of government in Canada."
Alan Cassels, a pharmaceutical policy researcher at the University of Victoria, says there has been some speculation about the relationship between the pharma giant and the B.C. Liberals.
"A lot of people think there's another agenda than just providing the drug," he says. "You're providing a market for a major manufacturer that has — some have claimed — close ties to the ruling government."
In a written statement, Pfizer told CBC News that the company "had no involvement in the government's decision to limit or suspend a review of Champix being conducted by British Columbia health researchers in 2012.
"In fact, Pfizer was not aware of the drugs/therapeutic areas that were being reviewed in the research and only became aware of them through media reports following the termination of the research."
There have been more than 2,300 reports of adverse drug reactions related to Champix since it was approved by Health Canada in 2007 — far more compared to the 129 adverse reports for Zyban, the province's other approved smoking cessation drug.
Champix has been linked to 40 attempted suicides and 44 deaths.
However, Health Minister Terry Lake told CBC News on Friday that the research shows Champix is safe and can lead to a healthier lifestyle.
Earlier in the day, he announced the government has requested an investigation from the provincial ombudsperson into the controversial firing of eight health researchers.
- A previous version of this story did not include Pfizer's response to concerns about its relationship to the B.C. government. It also did not clarify the time period for the company's donations to the B.C. Liberal Party. This information has now been added.Jul 08, 2015 2:42 PM PT
With files from Jeremy Allingham