Last year in October, the province of BC defunded the Therapeutics Initiative program, an independent institution to monitor the effects of prescription pharmaceutical drugs. TI is also attached to the University of British Columbia’s Department of Family Practice, and had been working in this capacity since 1994.
Defunding from the province did not kill the program. Instead, UBC picked up the shortfall, but TI garnered itself international attention as they campaigned for recognition, nationally and internationally, earning a mention in the prestigious British Medical Journal, as well as an open letter from doctors and research scientists from around the world, speaking on behalf of the initiative and its merits.
TI’s value is maintained in being neither an explicitly government organization, nor part of the commercial side of the healthcare industry. With responsibilities like meta-analysis on clinical research and processing and disseminating data from a neutral perspective, unique programs like TI also provide an alternative employer for graduates of life science and pharmaceutical courses.
Another example of TI in action was their timely intervention in discovering a health risk in a popular anti-inflammatory treatment. Their data correlations allowed them to pinpoint an increased rate of heart attacks in users. Thus, while the drug is generally available across North America, BC decided not to make it available in the province. A survey, administered by TI to measure their own success, showed that 95% of doctors and 92% of pharmacists believed that TI’s work has influenced their practices.
Some important lobbying efforts to restore Therapeutics Initiative
As a program, the province had provided it with about $1 million dollars annually, as well as access to ministry controlled prescription drug data. TI also had a strong role in giving the province the cheapest prescription drugs in Canada by allowing easier targeting of which treatments had the best outcome to cost ratio for smart bargaining with drug companies. It also adds another variable to regulatory affairs, by providing another influence on government decisions on drug policy.
Whether all the international pressure will have an effect on the provincial government of BC has yet to be seen. Defunding TI did not have a significant effect on the re-election of the BC Liberal Party. This is also not the first time the province has dealt with externally applied pressure to lobby for regulatory change and government reform.
Do you think that national pressure will be enough to convince the province to replace the missing funding?