The contract was connected with research concerning an Alzheimer’s disease medication, said Holly Tuokko, director of the Centre on Aging.
Tuokko said that details of such contractual agreements are all individually tailored, and so she was not certain whether the contract involved more than one drug used to treat dementia.
The ministry revealed Thursday that four of its employees had been fired and three had been suspended without pay while the RCMP investigate allegations the employees inappropriately accessed sensitive medical records.
The allegations involve the Health Ministry's pharmaceutical services division, which works with drug companies and researchers to determine what medications should be included in Pharmacare.
Tuokko told CBC News that the investigation is continuing, but no restrictions have been imposed on the researcher by the university thus far.
Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid said Thursday it appeared medical information about an unknown number of British Columbians was taken and used for purposes that hadn't been approved, and that some of the people involved — both inside and outside the ministry — had relationships with each other that hadn’t been declared.
It's not known whether there was any monetary gain for any of those involved.
The ministry said it had taken further action in response to the allegations, including:
- All ministry data sharing with drug and evidence development researchers is temporarily suspended.
- All work on contracts related to drug and evidence development is suspended.
- All spending for the pharmaceutical services division now requires approval by the assistant deputy minister.
- The ministry will tighten its policy regarding awards of contracts to universities. All contracts entered into by the ministry will now be reviewed by the ministry's contract management branch.
- The ministry will engage an independent consultant to review and enhance the ministry's data security measures.
The suspended research contracts are worth an estimated $4 million.
CBC News has also learned the ministry's employees' union, the B.C. Government Employees' Union, is helping many of those involved in the controversy file a grievance over their treatment.
A BCGEU spokesperson said the union has been involved since the internal Ministry of Health investigation began several months ago.