Pharma See, Pharma Sue

The Canadian Association of University Teachers has strongly condemned a new lawsuit by the Apotex pharmaceutical company against Dr. Nancy Olivieri. As a liver specialist at the University of Toronto, Olivieri first came under attack from Apotex in 1996 when she notified her patients that she had detected toxic side effects while conducting an Apotex-sponsored study of the company's drug, deferiphone. Claiming that Olivieri's actions violated their nondisclosure agreement, the company threatened her with legal action, and she was fired from her hospital (a recipient of hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in research funding from Apotex). After years of lawsuits, Apotex and Olivieri reached a legal settlement in 2004 in which the company agreed to pay $800,000 to Olivieri, while both sides were to refrain from further public "disparagement" of each other. Now Apotex is suing again, claiming that Olivieri has disparaged the company simply by participating at conferences on the relationship between universities and the pharmaceutical industry (even if she doesn't mention Apotex by name). Its legal filing also claims that she has engaged in disparagement when other people have written about her in newspaper stories and on Wikipedia. "This would appear to be a baldfaced attempt to muzzle a critic of the pharmaceutical industry," comments medical ethicist Howard Brody, author of the book Hooked: Ethics, the Medical Profession, and the Pharmaceutical Industry.