Drugs row academic finds ally

November 16, 2001

A University of Toronto academic who went public on controversial research findings, despite a confidentiality clause with the pharmaceuticals company that sponsored the project, has been supported by a report released on October 26.

In 1996, Nancy Olivieri told her university and the Hospital for Sick Children that a drug for which she was conducting two clinical trials was responsible for a build-up of iron in the blood of young thalassaemia patients.

The pharmaceuticals company Apotex refuted her findings, closed her trials and threatened her with a lawsuit if she went public.

An external review, organised by the hospital and university, blamed Dr Olivieri for failing to inform the hospital's ethics review board of her findings.

But the latest report, commissioned by the Canadian Association of University Teachers, says the university failed to protect Dr Olivieri from the drugs company. It also claims the university and its teaching hospital, during external and internal reviews, denied the blood researcher due process by relying on false testimony.

The CAUT report recommends that the university sector supports researchers whose academic freedom is threatened by a sponsor.

The CAUT report claims the investigator was not handed an important piece of documentation that would have contradicted statements from three physicians who said Dr Olivieri's trials were still proceeding when she went public.

The report has been denigrated by Toronto and the hospital, which refused to participate, but the university said it had implemented many recommendations from the earlier report.

Details: www.caut.ca/english/issues/acadfreedom/olivieri.asp

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