U of T launches world centre for accountability and transparency in pharmacy

The global pharmaceutical sector is the focus of a new World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre at the University of Toronto’s Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy.

The WHO Collaborating Centre for Governance, Accountability and Transparency in the Pharmaceutical Sector was officially launched on April 29 before a standing room only audience at the Faculty of Pharmacy. The centre’s launch was followed by a policy workshop where academics, journalists, representatives of the pharmaceutical industry and others discussed issues of transparency, governance and corruption in the sector.

Associate professor Jillian Kohler is the founding director of the new centre. Kohler told U of T News the centre is important because corruption in the health care sector not only leads to squandered public funds – it can also mean that people don’t get the drugs they need or get bad drugs.

She stressed that the centre will be examining critical governance issues which have an impact throughout the whole pharmaceutical sector.

“It ranges from manufacturing to dispensing. The drug manufacturers are important, but so are health professionals, governments, educators and researchers, and professional associations.”

Pharmacy Dean Heather Boon said the centre is a perfect complement to the other activities of the Faculty.

“We do a lot of amazing things in this building – we discover new molecules, we discover new methods of action, we help to design new policies which impact the care of Canadians and the care of people around the world. But,” she added, “our focus has been on those discoveries and not always so much on the impact of those discoveries; whether on patients, health care providers or the health care system. So the timing of this centre is perfect, because it’s really all about the impact of the decisions we make.”

The centre will conduct research, analysis and training on critical issues related to good governance, transparency and accountability  in the pharmaceutical sector.  The centre includes faculty from Dalla Lana, Medicine, Law, Munk School of Global Affairs and the Rotman School of Management, along with collaborators from the World Bank, Dalhousie and Carleton universities and the University of California at San Diego.

Kohler has an ideal background for her new position. She’s done pharmaceutical policy work at Unicef, the World Bank, and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), where she did field work in a range of countries including Brazil, Bulgaria, Haiti, and Romania. Her own area of research is fair access to essential medicines.

Fair access is definitely a problem in developing countries, she said, but it’s also a problem here in Canada. “Drugs that are available in Quebec may not be available in northern Canada or the Maritimes, for example. There are also examples of people who are relying on life-saving medicines who simply can’t afford them because the prices are well beyond their reach and governments aren’t providing funds for them.” Ironically, too easy access to drugs can also be an issue, she said, noting problems with opioid addiction..

Kohler said she was thrilled to be leading the centre, but stressed that it was a collaborative effort. “This is about making a world-class centre at the University of Toronto in an area that’s really quite new in terms of research and education.”