Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Nevermind The Stunt-O-Meters...The Therapeutics Initiative Is An Issue That Matters.


One of my favourite editorials ever was written about something homegrown called the 'Therapeutics Initiative'.

It was in the VTColonist in 2010 and it detailed why Gordon Campbell's decision to start cutting off the TI's oxygen was sheer lunacy

Here is the lede from that edit (which I've linked backed to at my place because it is no longer freely available on the VTC site):

The last act in a nasty vendetta has finally played out. Premier Gordon Campbell's government has decided to kill B.C.'s only independent drug review agency. And not just kill it, but bury it in an unmarked grave.

The agency involved is called the Therapeutics Initiative. Based at the University of British Columbia, it evaluates new drugs that come on the market.

The Therapeutics Initiative saves taxpayers $50 million annually by finding cheaper alternatives. Largely thanks to its efforts, B.C. has the lowest drug costs in the country, despite offering some of the best coverage.

Moreover, the Therapeutics Initiative runs on a shoestring budget. The agency gets $1 million a year. That means it generates a 50 to one return on investment.

Finally, its researchers have been credited with saving 500 lives by issuing timely warnings about suspect medications. When the new anti-inflammatory product Vioxx came out, the agency discovered a link with increased heart attack rates. As a result, although Vioxx was approved across most of North America, it was kept off the shelves in B.C......


Why am I bringing this up now in the 2013 election campaign?

Well, it turns out that one of the last acts of the government of Christy Clark was to try and kill the Therapeutics Inititiave, dead, for good.

Travis Lupick had that story in the GStraight yesterday:

...(L)ate yesterday (April 22), the Straight learned that the B.C. Liberal government has ceased funding for the program, effectively shutting it down.

“They finally confirmed that they have completely cut off our funding,” said Dr. Tom Perry, chair of the TI’s education group. He emphasized that the Liberal government is preventing the TI from functioning.

“They’ve eliminated all funding, and closed our unique laboratory,” Perry emphasized in a telephone interview. “They stopped transferring the money to UBC quietly. They led us to believe that it would eventually be coming, and then sometime after April 1, they informed UBC that it wouldn’t be.”...

And for those of you, like me, who were kinda/sorta thinking that, perhaps,  Ms. Clark's Health Minister  Margaret MacDiarmid, was actually not a bad public servant, at least in comparison to her caucus and ministerial colleagues, well.....

...The B.C Ministry of Health refused to grant an interview on the topic. Ryan Jabs, manager of communications for the ministry, referred questions to the B.C. Liberal Party. A request for an interview with Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid did not receive a response...

I mean, is that not bizarre....A government minister allowing a ministry spokesmodel to refer a reporter to a political party on a matter of health policy and government expenditure?



On the flipside, it turns out that Adrian Dix and the Dippers have actually promised to fully resurrect the TI and double its current oxygen-deprived budget. Yolande Cole, also in the GStraight, had that story a little later yesterday:

THE B.C. NEW Democrats have announced their plans for health care if elected next month, including measures to expand homecare for seniors, increase access to mental-health services, boost acute care in rural areas, and double funding to the Therapeutics Initiative....


This is a publicly-funded initiative that costs us very little in terms of tax dollars and, in return, it saves lives and actually makes us a bundle of money by ensuring that our provincial prescription drug plan does not shovel money off the back of a truck for stuff that doesn't work (or, as is often the case with 'new' patent compounds, doesnt' work any better than less expensive stuff that is already available).

Are you starting to understand what I'm really talking about now?

I've written a lot about this in the past....You can find  some of it here, here, here and here....
And, just to be clear...While I work in the biomedical field, my work is very basic/fundamental; I am not a clinician...Thus, I do not have direct scientific interaction with the fine folks from the TI...
Oh, and please note, to the best of my knowledge very few, if any other proMedia outlets 'round here have even uttered a whisper on this matter...As for 'Spend-O-Meters' and Sun runs....Well...You know, those actually matter and deserve a gazillion column inches so as to really (mis)inform the citizenry, right?
Update, 6:00pm Wednesday: I've heard from a reader that the TI folks got to tell their story on Bill Good's show this morning...For this I will break my self-imposed audio boycott and have a listen...Very willing to give credit where it is due....



Mark said...

Just to add to the plot, guess who is the Chair and a director of BC Pavco? Why, none other than BC Liberal candidates Fassbender and Anton www.bcpavco/team/

RossK said...


Thanks Mark.


Ed Seedhouse said...

This is just despicable.

Anonymous said...

You have to really wonder what the BC Liberals were up to when they fired the Ministry of Health employees supposedly about an Alzheimer's drug study. Some of those employees also wrote a report about how drug companies exaggerate research costs to justify absurd profits. Sounds like orders were given to shut them down. I'd like to hear what the RCMP have found in their investigation or are they hoping we'll forget about it.

Bill said...

Yes this really is an important initiative. Is it "no brains" or skull duggery by Christie and company to kill the TI? It is a no brainer and striking contrast in priorities by Mr Dix to restore it. So much for Liberal self proclaimed business acumen and cost benefit analysis.

The mostly free ride by many of the biggest of MSM reporting on the BC Liberals governance finally seems to carry much less relevance with voters. Photo ops and spin are being countered with real analysis on many fronts.

The critical voices and timely questioning of progressive bloggers have been punching well above their weight and having a real impact. Thanks for all your posts, links and intelligent, informed commenters here.

Grant G said...


Grant G said...

Vaughn Palmer fills in the blanks with his own made up facts...Really pathetic, I guess those layoff notices got him worried..

cfvua said...

A 50:1 return on investment? The liberals seem to be way happier with their IPP investments that cost ratepayers several times what Hydro sells power to them for.
And how many times this election will we hear how the liberals are far superior money handlers than anyone!
But then the are lobbyists at work for pharmaceutical companies that look at TI's beneficial work as bad for business. Who knew?

Anonymous said...

Think Dr. Margaret McDiarmid is doing an OK job? Read this Vancouver Sun guest editorial.

Six fired, two lawsuits, one dead - but still no answers: One year later, we still don’t know what caused the upheaval at Ministry of Health’s Pharmaceutical Services Division


A year ago this month - March 28, 2012, to be exact - B.C.'s office of the auditor general told the B.C. Ministry of Health about a complaint someone made about the way contracts were being awarded and how research was being conducted within the ministry's Pharmaceutical Services Division (PSD).

It's time the public had some answers since this is not just a personal tale of intrigue and tragedy for those involved - but a story that has directly affected the way we assess and monitor pharmaceutical drugs in B.C., and the rest of Canada.

Here's what we do know in a nutshell: PSD is in charge of paying for medications for B.C. citizens, medications that cost about $100 million per month, the fastest growing budget in the ministry. At the time, there was a small evaluation unit within PSD - a staff of half a dozen economists and data analysts plus one position shared by two academic researchers, for facilitating drug evaluations by outside researchers. These weren't lightweight researchers: both had PhDs, one was a world-leading Harvard-trained epidemiologist and the other a health economist.

The unit's job was to help design and sponsor evaluations to determine if drugs paid for by B.C. Pharmacare were effective and safe.

In the course of this work, the evaluations might show that some medications are ineffective or worse: they might sometimes kill or injure people.

The Ministry of Health started investigating the complaint in April 2012 by conducting staff interviews and reviewing contracts. The ministry said the formal investigation was initiated to "examine financial controls, contracting, data management and employee/contractor relationships."

Then a handful of employees were sent letters saying they were suspended without pay, but not told the specific reasons why. Other researchers had their data access suspended. Contractors were fired and contracts cancelled.

In June, while the province's minister of health was announcing nearly $40 million in new drug research money for B.C. at a large biotechnology conference in Boston, his staff back in Victoria were carrying out what some called a "Kafkaesque" series of interrogations. People were on trial, not knowing the charges or who was doing the accusing.

All drug safety evaluations carried out by the Therapeutics Initiative (TI) were halted. Funded by the provincial government, the TI has been providing an independent voice on pharmaceuticals since the mid-1990s and has gained an international reputation for its meticulous and thorough drug reviews...

Anonymous said...

o/t & very scary

In the wake of a dramatic RCMP reveal of two people arrested in Canada in connection with a plot to derail a passenger train, Canadians may have questioned why the United States Department of Homeland Security and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation were involved in the operation.

Those who have followed the quiet evolution of Canada-US cross-border policing, however, weren’t surprised. Law enforcement agencies in Canada and the US are now working together in an unprecedented way, says the RCMP—and
the two countries are hammering out a plan to let agents in both countries drive back and forth across the border as though it wasn’t there.

Grant G said...

Seems to me..Free is too high of a price for this rag..

No disclosure from 24 hours that Diamond Girl is working on the BC Liberal election campaign.

scotty on Denman said...

Last minute insider deals like the curious goings off of Therapeutic Initiative are to do with advantaging Big Pharma and with the personal careers of party insiders; at this point of BC Liberal disintegration, they can't have anything to do with helping this doomed government. I'm wondering about the doability of Dix's generous commitment to reopen TI; we'll never find out before the BC Liberals are wiped out if the secrecy involved with defunding TI has something to do with frustrating Dix's commitment. Has it got something to do with NAFTA or TILMA (or whatever it's called now)?... or have the outgoing scoundrels signed an exclusive, thirty-year contract to a Big Pharma friendly org? Our curiosities will be satisfied, if nothing else, by the coming forensic audit of the public books.

Grant G said...

Adrian Dix live stream interview with Bill Good..

RossK said...

Thanks all for all the feedback and info....

Apologies to have not been in the discussion.

I note, with interest, that the FI is flogging a little deflector spike spin today.


Norm Farrell said...

The importance of Therapeutics Initiative was outlined in Dr. Ben Goldacre's book BAD PHARMA. I wrote about it here:

I encourage interested people to read more of Goldacre's work. He is a regular contributor at The Guardian newspaper site and can be heard in various podcasts. What he reveals in BAD PHARMA is frightening to users of pharmaceuticals and their friends.

Norm Farrell said...

A clickable link to the item about BAD PHARMA:

Patients exposed to harm on staggering scale

RossK said...

Thanks Norm.


Norm Farrell said...

Turns out the pharmaceutical industry has pumped almost half a million dollars into Liberal coffers. Probably more because of the lag in reporting.

They've given about 1% of that amount to the NDP.

I also caution that companies ontribute money through proxies which cannot be tracked through Elections BC records.