Where There’s Smoke, There’s Pfizer

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Bernard Prigent, Pfizer, CIHR Governing Council, Conflict of Interest, Bioethics Advocacy


In 2009, Bernard Prigent (Vice President and Medical Director of Pfizer Canada and registered Pfizer lobbyist), became a member of CIHR’s Governing Council. At that time, Prigent’s job included influencing the allocation of health research dollars and CIHR was among the target organizations. Concerns about Prigent's conflict of interest were raised within and outside CIHR. The pivotal question was: can a senior officer and lobbyist for Pfizer Canada represent the public interest as a member of the Governing Council of an organization he is paid to influence? When they heard about Prigent’s appointment, Baylis and Downie tried to get the appointment decision reversed. They communicated with the CIHR Ethics Office, CIHR Ethics Designates, CIHR Standing Committee on Ethics, as well as the ethics member of the CIHR Governing Council. When this was ineffective, they launched a public petition addressed to the government. They attempted to generate public engagement through national media. One of them appeared before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health arguing that the appointment represented an unmanageable conflict of interest and should be reversed. Unfortunately, these interventions were not successful and Prigent remained on the Governing Council. Here, Baylis and Downie reflect on lessons learned about bioethics advocacy through this case.