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CAUT Bulletin Archives

January 2009

Apotex vs. Olivieri:

An Attack on Academic Freedom

Nancy Olivieri is facing yet another lawsuit from pharmaceutical giant Apotex Inc. [File Photo]
Nancy Olivieri is facing yet another lawsuit from pharmaceutical giant Apotex Inc. [File Photo]
A recent lawsuit filed by Apotex Inc. against Dr. Nancy Olivieri is a blatant attack on academic freedom, says CAUT. “Some of Apotex’s allegations in the lawsuit appear to be obviously absurd,” said James Turk, executive direc­tor of CAUT. “It appears that Apotex is simply bent on preventing Dr. Olivieri from participating in dis­cussion about systemic issues of public interest.”

The Apotex lawsuit arises from efforts by Olivieri to enforce an agreement she entered into with Apotex in November of 2004 in settlement of defa­ma­tion claims by both parties.

On Nov. 28, 2008, Justice George Strathy of the Ontario Superior Court ordered that Apotex com­ply with the terms of the 2004 settlement, including the arrangement to pay $800,000 to Olivieri.

The settlement required that Olivieri not “dispa­rage Apotex” or its drug deferiprone. Apotex has opposed all of Olivieri’s efforts to enforce the settlement agreement, claiming she has disparaged the company. Olivieri has denied that she has done so.

Apotex filed its lawsuit Nov. 4 in Ontario Supe­rior Court over Olivieri’s alleged “disparagement.” Justice Strathy’s order does not affect the new Apotex action.

In its action Apotex could claim from Olivieri the $800,000 required to be paid to her under the earlier settlement agreement. Olivieri said Apotex’s lawsuit was without merit.

In its statement of claim Apotex takes a very broad view of what constitutes actionable disparagement, where “Olivieri either directly disparaged Apotex and/or deferiprone or acquiesced or consented to the disparagement.” The claim describes everything from a Wikipedia entry about Olivieri, to newspaper articles profiling Olivieri, to a motion picture web site advertising a company’s script development for “The Nancy Oli­vieri Story.”

In its claim, Apotex also makes many allegations of “disparagement” that appear to be based solely on Dr. Olivieri’s participation or attendance at conferences on the relationship between universities and the pharmaceutical industry at large, academic freedom, scientific research and conflict of interest.

“It is extremely troubling that Apotex, which describes itself as a major research company, should appear to have such small regard for the academic freedom that is at research’s very core,” says Turk. “In my view, university teachers and the public at large should not hesitate to support Dr. Olivieri in oppo­sing such a disturbing lawsuit.”