Submitted by: Veronica Coffin
In his last months in office, President Obama continues to pursue his policy of appointing industry insiders and lobbyists to important posts within the federal government.
A glaring example is his recent nomination of Dr. Robert Califf to become the new head of the FDA when current commissioner Margaret Hamburg steps down in March.
Califf has just received the support of a Senate committee, and is now expected to receive full senate approval of the appointment – despite revelations that he has close ties to the pharmaceutical industry.
Even mainstream media outlets have voiced concerns over the appointment. A number of journalists and observers are questioning the potential impartiality of an appointee who has worked so closely with Big Pharma for so many years.
‘Deep financial and intellectual ties’
“Califf is widely respected in the public and private sectors, but his candidacy is seen by some as a threat to the independence and authority of the FDA, thanks to his views on the need to accelerate change and his deep financial and intellectual ties to the pharmaceutical and medical device industries.
“Califf says his salary is contractually underwritten in part by several large pharmaceutical companies, including Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly and Novartis. He also receives as much as $100,000 a year in consulting fees from some of those companies, and from others, according to his 2014 conflict of interest disclosure.”
From 2006 to 2015, Califf worked for Faculty Connection, a company which provides ‘regulatory consulting’ for the medical industry. In other words, its services are designed to help pharmaceutical companies and others within the industry sidestep federal regulations.
Califf is certainly a champion for deregulation of the drug industry. One of his stated goals is to bring the pharmaceutical industry and the regulatory agencies closer so that new drugs can gain approval more quickly and easily.
He defends his ties to the industry, saying that it would be “useful to have someone [leading the FDA] who understands how companies operate because you’re interacting with them all the time.”
‘Califf’s appointment is hardly surprising’
In other words, let the fox guard the hen house – which seems to have been the guiding philosophy behind many of President Obama’s appointments.
As Jeffrey Phillips of WeAreChange.org noted:
“Califf’s appointment is hardly surprising. Michael Taylor, the current Deputy Commissioner for Foods at the FDA — also appointed by Barack Obama — used to be Monsanto’s vice president for public policy.
“Collusion between corporations and the FDA is widely documented. This influence has presumably contributed to many questionable decisions, such as the FDA’s approval of oxycontin for children or the ongoing approval of countless dangerous drugs that are later recalled.”
Democrats such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have been outspoken in opposition of the Califf nomination, but there is at least one Republican member of Congress who also believes he is unfit for the role of FDA chief.
“Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, said she will place a ‘hold’ on his nomination to prevent a Senate vote, saying she’s angry about her treatment by Califf and the FDA when she raised concerns about the agency’s plans for the labeling of genetically modified fish.
“Murkowski, who wants mandatory labeling, says she talked to Califf about the issue after the committee’s confirmation hearing in November, and that he promised to listen to her concerns. But shortly after the hearing, the FDA issued guidelines that called for voluntary labeling of genetically modified foods, not mandatory labeling.”
Murkowski said Califf was “not straightforward” regarding his knowledge of the FDA’s plans.
However, by the time of the Senate committee’s vote on Tuesday, January 12, Elizabeth Warren had backed down from her previous objections, saying that after reviewing Califf’s record she is “satisfied that he has conducted himself with integrity as an academic researcher.”
Bernie Sanders simply didn’t show up on Tuesday – he was too busy campaigning for the presidency.
Apparently it’s business as usual this week in Washington, D.C.