Impact Ethics

Pharmaceutical Companies and CIHR

At CIHR, persons appointed to the Governing Council must promote the best interests of CIHR, the broad research community and the health of Canadians. In October 2009, Bernard Prigent, the Vice President and Medical Director of Pfizer Canada and registered Pfizer lobbyist (per the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying) was appointed to the CIHR Governing Council. Prigent’s appointment came shortly after Pfizer’s $2.3 billion legal settlement for the illegal marketing of drugs. His appointment sparked controversy within CIHR because of conflict between his roles at Pfizer and CIHR. The conflict between public and corporate interests in healthcare research is nicely described in two commentaries: "Dancing with the porcupine: rules for governing the university-industry relationship" and “Dances with the pharmaceutical industry” [PDF - 64 KB].

Below we outline the events, which followed the appointment of the Pfizer Canada VP and lobbyist to the CIHR Governing Council.

Important Events

November 24, 2009 - Go Petition launched.

November 26 - December 1, 2009 - Françoise Baylis writes to the Ethics member of CIHR Governing Council and chair of the CIHR Standing Committee on Ethics, Dr. Harvey Chochinov concerning the October 2009 appointment of Bernard Prigent. As Dr. Prigent’s appointment had faced opposition within the CIHR, Dr. Baylis asks why the strong reservations expressed by the CIHR Institute Advisory Board Ethics Designates and the members of the CIHR Standing Committee on Ethics are set aside. See memo and letter to the CIHR Standing Committee on Ethics, November 26, 2009 [PDF - 51 KB]; Letter to Dr. Harvey Chochinov, December 1, 2009 [PDF - 94 KB]; Dr. Chochinov’s response [PDF - 8 KB] to Dr. Baylis.

In response to the allegations of a conflict of interest, Dr. Harry Chochinov insists that the "Governing Council members are not there to promote their own vested interests or those associated with their specific… affiliations." This expectation conflicts with that of Pfizer Canada. Dr. Prigent, in his role as one of several lobbyists for Pfizer Canada, is expected to influence how health research dollars are allocated. CIHR is among Pfizer’s target organizations.

December 7, 2009 - Jocelyn Downie and Trudo Lemmens testify before the Standing Committee on Health.

January 25, 2010 - Go Petition closes with 4411 signatures.

June 21, 2010 - Elaine Gibson publishes “Concepts of Bias and Appointments to the Governing Council of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research” [PDF - 48 KB] in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

July 12, 2010 - Jocelyn Downie publishes "A conflict by any other name would smell foul" [PDF - 219 KB].  

November 22, 2012 - Bernard Prigent is reappointed to Governing Council until November 2015. He continues to work as the Vice-President and Medical Director of Pfizer Canada.

Impact Ethics Recommendations

The researchers at Impact Ethics recommend that persons appointed to the Governing Council of CIHR be free from corporate and private interests of Canadians, consistent with the CIHR mandate to support and defend the primary health of Canadians.