Medical research ethics whistleblower Nancy Olivieri honored again

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One of the saddest stories about drug company influence on clinical trials and on the integrity of research is the story of Dr. Nancy Olivieri.

In 2009, the American Association for the Advancement of Science gave her its award for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility. AAAS wrote, at the time:

In 1997, while conducting a clinical trial of a drug that showed promise in improving the lives of patients suffering from thalassemia—a blood disorder that can be fatal if not treated—Dr. Olivieri discovered possibly life-threatening side effects of the medication. She informed the pharmaceutical company of this risk and of her intention to notify the hospital’s Research Ethics Board, her patients, and other clinicians. The company, disagreeing with her findings, informed Dr. Olivieri that such actions would be in violation of a confidentiality agreement she had signed and that they would seek “legal remedies” if she carried out her intentions.

After publishing her findings, she suffered a series of adverse actions from the company and the hospital, including being relieved of one of her positions and referral to a physicians’ disciplinary board. The press received anonymous letters accusing her of misconduct, later traced to a colleague who received money from the company. The university where she had an appointment, which had been promised a large donation by the company, supported her only after an investigation by the Canadian Association of University Teachers completely vindicated her, as did the physicians’ board. Dr. Olivieri continues to fight legal battles brought against her by the drug company.

Her struggle in defending these principles has brought world attention to the importance of scientific integrity for public health and safety. Editors of leading biomedical journals have imposed new publishing standards, the university changed its policies on industry-supported research, and her findings regarding the drug have stood.


She is Senior Scientist at the Toronto General Hospital and Professor of Pediatrics, Medicine and Public Health Sciences at the University of Toronto.

Last week, she received an honorary degree from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Dalhousie. She was honored “for taking a courageous stand that helped bring issues of medical ethics to the forefront of our collective consciousness, and for her national and international research in blood disorders.”

Here is a video clip of the awards presentation:


Another classic story of pharma influence on research is the story of researcher Betty Dong at UC – San Francisco.  If you haven’t read about that one either, here are some details.



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