Thanks Obama: POTUS’ nomination of Robert Califf may leave Big Pharma in complete control over the FDA… he took money from 23 drug companies
It’s now official: President Obama’s nomination of Robert Califf as the new head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has just been approved by the U.S. Senate.
This is a particularly worrisome development, due to Califf’s strong ties to the pharmaceutical industry, and although many in Washington (such as Bernie Sanders) and elsewhere have voiced strong opposition to the nomination, in the final vote only four senators opposed his appointment.
Califf, who until recently held the post of chancellor of clinical and translational research at Duke University, has worked closely with Big Pharma and has received money from 23 different drug companies, including such industry heavyweights as Merck, Johnson & Johnson, Lilly and GSK.
As reported by Signs of the Times:
“Not merely receiving research funds, Califf also served as a high level Pharma officer, say press reports. Medscape, the medical website, discloses that Califf ‘served as a director, officer, partner, employee, advisor, consultant or trustee for Genentech.’ Portola Pharmaceuticals says Califf served on its board of directors until leaving for the FDA.
“In disclosure information for a 2013 article in Circulation, Califf also lists financial links to Gambro, Regeneron, Gilead, AstraZeneca, Roche and other companies and equity positions in four medical companies. Gilead is the maker of the $1000-a-pill hepatitis C drug AlterNet recently wrote about. This is FDA commissioner material?”
Califf says working with Big Pharma is ‘a very good thing’
And, although Califf has supporters who claim that he will act in an impartial fashion as FDA commissioner, his own words paint a very different picture.
“Many of us consult with the pharmaceutical industry, which I think is a very good thing,” Califf told NPR. “They need ideas and then the decision about what they do is really up to the person who is funding the study.”
Califf’s track record also indicates that he is a terrible choice to lead the agency responsible for keeping Big Pharma in check.
Duke University, where Califf was in charge of research, was involved in a much-publicized research fraud case which led to “terminated grants, retracted papers and a 60 Minutes special.”
FDA’s history of collusion with Big Pharma
Unfortunately, the FDA has a history of working hand-in-hand with the pharmaceutical industry. The previous commissioner of the agency, Margaret Hamburg, who was appointed in 2009, was expected to be an impartial figure because of her public health background, but she disappointed her supporters by easing conflict-of-interest restrictions on appointees.
Before her departure, Hamburg appointed Califf as FDA deputy commissioner of medical products and tobacco; Califf subsequently became Obama’s choice for the vacated commissioner’s post.
Other FDA appointees have proven to be “cheerleaders” for Big Pharma, as well:
“In 2005, a 33-year-old Wall Street insider known for recommending hot medical stocks, Scott Gottlieb, was named FDA deputy commissioner for medical and scientific affairs. When a multiple sclerosis drug trial was stopped because three people lost blood platelets and one died, Gottlieb called it “an overreaction” because the disease, not the drug, might be to blame.”
Gottlieb was responsible for rushing to market Chantix, a stop-smoking drug made by Pfizer, which was linked to numerous suicides. He also had to step aside from other planning and approval procedures due to financial ties to several drug companies involved.
Accordingly, there’s nothing really surprising about the appointment of Califf to head the FDA. It’s business as usual – and I do mean “business.”
Perhaps the next POTUS will prove to be more circumspect in his or her appointments to powerful agencies, but I strongly doubt it.
Until we reform the current American political system, in which industry lobbyists can literally buy elected leaders along with their appointed policymakers, we will continue to be victimized by those whose greed supersedes any concern for the public’s health and welfare.