None of the people contacted agreed to be interviewed for this story, in some cases citing legal advice not to speak about it with anyone while they prepare wrongful dismissal suits against the government. One said the firing appeared to be political in nature, but declined to provide details.
The people affected had been involved in various research projects over the years that were aimed at saving the public money on drugs, work that had the flip side of cutting into drug company profits.
Mattson and Maclure, for example, were involved in the Alzheimer's Drug Therapy Initiative, project whose tasks included gathering the evidence on drugs used to treat the disease and making recommendations to the ministry on whether or not it should pay for them. A recommendation against using the drugs could be very expensive for the companies that make them.
Another project that takes physicians' prescribing patterns and compares them to what the evidence says are the best practices expired on Aug. 31. The project, aimed at both reducing unsafe prescribing and saving the government money, had assessed several drugs already and researchers planned to look at several more.
There were questions too about how the investigation may affect the Therapeutics Initiative, a UBC body that holds contracts to assess drugs for the government, and whose future was in question starting in 2008 when a government report recommended replacing it. Already the group's access to data has been cut off, along with that of other researchers.
The B.C. Government Employees' Union has reportedly said it is working on grievances on behalf of its three members who were fired.