Roderick MacIsaac, the co-op student who took his own life, and Rebecca Warburton were researching the government program that prescribes drugs to help British Columbians stop smoking when they were fired in 2012.
Pfizer's Champix, one of the drugs that the ministry was reviewing, has been linked to 44 deaths in Canada with side effects including psychosis and depression.
According to the Ministry of Health, 68,000 British Columbians have been prescribed the provincially-covered Champix through the smoking cessation program since 2011 and the sales have generated $20 million for Pfizer. And the B.C. Liberal government has received more than $40,000 in donations from Pfizer.
Alan Cassels, a pharmaceutical policy researcher at the University of Victoria, says there has been some speculation about the relationship between the pharma giant and the B.C. Liberals.
"A lot of people think there's another agenda than just providing the drug," he says. "You're providing a market for a major manufacturer that has — some have claimed — close ties to the ruling government."
There have been more than 2,300 reports of adverse drug reactions related to Champix since it was approved by Health Canada in 2007 — far more compared to the 129 adverse reports for Zyban, the province's other approved smoking cessation drug.
Champix has been linked to 40 attempted suicides and 44 deaths.
However, Health Minister Terry Lake told CBC News on Friday that the research shows Champix is safe and can lead to a healthier lifestyle.
Earlier in the day, he announced the government has requested an investigation from the provincial ombudsperson into the controversial firing of eight health researchers.