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In the show, Francoise Baylis, Canada Research Chair in bioethics at Dalhousie University, says it is impossible for Prigent to avoid a conflict of interest in the new posting because his job as a Pfizer vice president is to sell as many drugs as possible. The job of the CIHR, however, is to ensure public safety. The two are not always the same thing, she said.
Dr. Jean Rouleau, dean of medicine at the University of Montreal and a member of the CIFR's governing council told the CBC's Anna Maria Tremonti that the group needs to hear from people in the pharmaceutical industry.
Baylis said such input, when needed, could be had by calling Prigent and other industry executives to make submission to the CIHR, without giving them a voice in the decisions made by the group.
Meanwhile, a former member of the CIHR, Saskatchewan researcher Steven Lewis lashed out at the appointment, citing the industry's past marketing scandals and saying the appointment gives Pfizer a competitive advantage over other companies.
"The industry's greatest innovations have occurred outside the lab," he wrote. "Expensive junkets for docs-for-hire to shill for their products to their peers; the purchase of previously distinguished academics to affix their names to ghostwritten papers; the suppression of unfriendly clinical trials and adverse effects data; the publication of the same data in different journals to bias systematic reviews and meta-analyses; etc. ad infinitum."
Lewis said it is "hardly irrelevant that the company to which Dr. Prigent owes his livelihood and his allegiance has owned up to sleaze that stands out even among its shady peers."
Since 2004, Pfizer, the world's largest drug company, has paid $2.75 billion in criminal fines and penalties, Lewis said. "Most recently (Pfizer paid) a whopping $2.3 billion for fraudulently marketing Bextra, a painkiller withdrawn from the market in 2005, and three other drugs."
He questioned how Prigent would respond if the council were asked to support research showing a Pfizer drug is dangerous or identifies the massive public subsidies that flow to drug companies.
As a member of the governing council, Lewis said Prigent will have access to information that his competitors do not and "he can exert a steering effect where they cannot."
CIHR president Dr. Alain Beaudet, who recommended Prigent for the appointment, has said he will bring a private-sector voice to the council and help ensure wise spending.
An online petition against the appointment has now collected almost 4,000 names.