Victoria drug researcher wasn’t silenced, B.C. government says

The B.C. government denies allegations by a Victoria drug researcher that the province tried to silence his work because it would shrink lucrative political contributions from drug companies to the B.C. Liberal Party.

The government filed a response to a lawsuit by labour and health economist William Warburton in B.C. Supreme Court on Tuesday, saying “the defendants deny each and every statement of fact in the notice of civil claim except where expressly admitted in this response.”

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Warburton, 59, is suing the province and Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid for defamation, breach of contract and interference with contract. He filed his claim in B.C. Supreme Court on May 6 — a week before the Liberals won the provincial election.

In court documents, Warburton claims the B.C. Liberal Party, as a recipient of “significant contributions from drug companies,” was trying to curtail research by revoking his access to Health Ministry data.

“The province’s acts against Dr. Warburton are part of a bad-faith program by the defendants to end the investigation of harmful effects of drugs which risk leading to diminishing payments to their political contributors, and constitute misfeasance in public office as the defendants were aware that their deliberate acts against Dr. Warburton were illegal and would likely harm him,” court documents say.

None of the claims has been proven in court.

The government’s response claim, filed late Tuesday, does not specifically address allegations that the province was pandering to drug companies. The responses are specific to the claims of “breach of contract, interference with contract and defamation.”

The government’s claims against Warburton include that he improperly accessed provincial data; failed to advise persons requesting access to material to make their request to the province and instead provided such material directly to such persons; and failed to ensure people receiving such material were authorized to receive it.

The Health Ministry’s investigation, which began in May 2012, produced potential evidence of conflict of interest and inappropriate contract management and data access with external drug researchers, the government says in court documents.

Seven Health Ministry staff were fired last year in relation to the investigation. All seven have claimed wrongful dismissal. Two contractors had their contracts and data access yanked.

Also as a result, the sharing of drug data and contracts with the University of B.C. and University of Victoria were suspended. The government also suspended the use of Health Ministry data by the UBC-based Therapeutics Initiative, a research group that provides independent assessments of the efficacy of pharmaceuticals in B.C.

Warburton was hired in August 2010 and paid $1 a year by the Health Ministry to conduct complex data analyses. His ministry data access enabled him to have a series of contracts with the Provincial Health Services Agency in Vancouver, which provided the bulk of his income. He expected that to continue past his last agreement ending March 2013.

“At all material times, the defendants were aware that Dr. Warburton was investigating very profitable drugs, he had found evidence of strong harmful side effects, and that the drugs were not primarily prescribed for approved uses,” court documents say.

In June, the province revoked Warburton’s access to Health Ministry data. It also revoked the use of Health Ministry data for UVic’s Alzheimer’s Drug Therapy Initiative that was looking at the efficacy and cost effectiveness of Alzheimer drugs. Warburton had been hired by UVic for about $100,000 a year to analyze that data. With no data, Warburton had no job.

charnett@timescolonist.com

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