Drug giant Pfizer Canada finds itself at the centre of two conflict of interest controversies after one of its executives was appointed to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and it signed a deal to provide $780,000 for the Canadian Medical Association to set up educational programs for doctors.
The controversies have also touched the Canadian Medical Association, which is coming under fire for taking $780,000 from Pfizer to set up the education programs.
“My feeling is that the pharmaceutical industry has no business at all educating doctors,” said Arnold Relman, professor emeritus at Harvard Medical School and former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine. “There's no question that if you're paying the piper, you influence the tune that the piper is going to play.”
Heather Bisset, Pfizer Canada's manager of corporate communications, said it simply wants to “improve education that's provided for doctors across Canada.”
Meanwhile, as of this writing, more than 3,100 people had signed an online petition against the appointment of Dr. Bernard Prigent, vice president and medical director of Pfizer Canada, to the governing council of CIHR.
Francoise Baylis, Canada Research Chair in bioethics at Dalhousie University calls Prigent's appointment "an intractable conflict of interest."
To quote from one of the signatories, “You don’t put the rooster in charge of the hen house.” The duty of pharmaceutical companies (e.g., Pfizer) is to make money for their shareholders. The duty of CIHR is to promote the public interest. The interests of shareholders and the interests of Canadians are not one and the same.
CIHR was created in 2000 as an arms-length federal agency responsible for funding health research in Canada. The 2009-2010 total budget for CIHR was just under a billion dollars. This is a lot of money and it is important that Canadians understand how their tax dollars are being spent.
CIHR president Alain Beaudet said Prigent's experience in innovation and commercialization will “fill a major expertise gap” on the board.