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Top pharmacologist tells Health Ministry to stop bashing researchers

Oct 04 2012

The head of pharmacology at the University of B.C. is calling on the Health Ministry to either stop bashing reputable drug researchers or provide evidence to back up its allegations of privacy breaches and conflict of interest.
Dr. Brian Warriner stepped down this week as the head of the department of anesthesiology, pharmacology and therapeutics, at UBC’s faculty of medicine.
As he leaves his post to take on the role of consultant to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C., Warriner decided to speak out in support of a respected colleague whose name is being dragged through the mud, he said, adding the Health Ministry investigation is also putting valuable life-saving research on hold.
“The government, clearly, can destroy an individual’s reputation without any evidence of wrongdoing virtually overnight,” Warriner said. “Why is the ministry refusing to release the charges?”
Warriner hired Dr. Malcolm Maclure, a tenured professor in UBC’s department of anesthesiology, pharmacology and therapeutics, for the research teaching position of chair in patient safety at UBC.
Maclure and Rebecca Warburton, a part-time professor in the University of Victoria’s school of public administration, are co-directors of research and evidence development in the Health Ministry’s pharmaceutical services division.
Both Maclure and Warburton were suspended without pay as a result of the ministry’s investigation, which started in May. Five other ministry employees have been fired.
All seven have hired  legal counsel.
In addition, the Health Ministry suspended contracts worth $4 million with UVic and UBC and suspended drug and PharmaNet data access for its drug researchers. (About $1 million in funding has been restored.)
The Times Colonist also learned last week that the Health Ministry suspended a contribution agreement with the UBC-based Therapeutics Initiative, an independent research group that acts as a drug-safety watchdog for British Columbians. The $550,000 contract represents the majority of the organization’s funding.
Maclure is suing the province for defamation and wrongful dismissal.
Warriner called Maclure “incredibly ethical.”
“He’s a member of my department and a highly respected individual internationally, and he’s basically been charged, tried and convicted without any access to the information that suggests there’s been any wrongdoing,” Warriner said.
Victoria lawyer Cathie Boies Parker represents Warburton and expects she will be exonerated during the investigation. Parker also represents Warburton’s husband of 32 years, Bill Warburton, a labour and health economist who had an external $1-per-year contract giving him access to drug data. It was revoked early in the investigation.
Warriner called on the ministry to produce any evidence it had of wrongdoing.
The Health Ministry has said it cannot release any names or detailed information in order to protect the investigation and the privacy of those involved.
Maclure was working for the ministry when UBC wanted to make him chair in patient safety, Warriner said. The ministry’s pharmaceutical services division wanted to keep Maclure, so the university agreed to share him in what was an “unusual arrangement,” Warriner said.
On Sept. 6, B.C. Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid said the government gave the RCMP an interim investigation report and asked them to investigate allegations of inappropriate contracting, conduct and data-management practices involving ministry employees and drug researchers.
The RCMP’s commercial crimes unit in Victoria has received the information.
It will not review the file until a final report is submitted, and won’t investigate unless it determines a possible criminal offence took place.
ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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