Bernie Sanders Says Obama’s Pick For FDA Is A Pharmaceutical Industry Loyalist, Throws Wrench In Plan

Dr. Robert Califf is President Obama’s pick to lead the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but Sen. Bernie Sanders says he won’t stand for it. Sanders, who sits on the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, a committee that holds the power to advance Califf’s nomination, called Califf a pharmaceutical industry loyalist. Sanders says Califf is not a suitable choice to lead the FDA.

“We need a new leader at the FDA who is prepared to stand up to the pharmaceutical companies and work to substantially lower drug prices,” Sanders said, according to The Hill. “Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that Dr. [Robert] Califf is not that person.”

Sanders, who is a Democratic presidential candidate running against Hillary Clinton, was not shy about speaking his opposition with the president’s pick for head of the FDA. Sanders announced that he would not support the president’s pick shortly after meeting with the cardiologist who joined the FDA early in 2015 as a deputy commissioner. Califf has strong ties to the industry, according to The Wall Street Journal. In 2014, he did $100,000 worth of consulting work, according to a conflict of interest statement.

“Instead of listening to the demands of the pharmaceutical industry and their 1,400 lobbyists, it is about time that the FDA and Congress started listening to the overwhelming majority of the American people who believe that medicine is too expensive,” Sanders wrote.

The Obama administration defending Califf in a statement on Friday, said that the FDA head nominee dedicated his career “to advancing biomedical research, including the rigorous evaluation of the safety, efficacy and appropriate use of both new medical products and those already on the market.”

The move to the top of the FDA was expected to be a smooth one for Dr. Califf, but with Bernie Sander’s opposition, things got a little rocky. According to Reuters, Califf would take the place of the acting commissioner Dr. Stephen Ostroff.

Ostroff stood in after Dr. Margaret Hamburg resigned this year.

Spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services Kevin Griffis said Dr. Califf donated all of his consulting fees to non-profit organizations, so he should not be seen as having a conflict of interest, though it was not reported which non-profit organizations were those in the Reuters report.

“Dr. Robert Califf’s professional career has been dedicated to advancing biomedical research, including the rigorous evaluation of the safety, efficacy and appropriate use of both new medical products and those already on the market.”

Still, Sen. Sanders was joined by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which called “his cozy relationship with the pharmaceutical industry is simply too close for comfort.” The New York Times reported that Califf recieved financial support from around twenty industry companies.

Daniel Carpenter, a Harvard professor who focuses his study the FDA, called President Obama’s pick to head the FDA “the ultimate industry insider” after Califf said that FDA regulation was a barrier to research and innovation. A Boston Globe report said that Dr. Robert Califf removed his name from a series of papers that he recently coauthored. This move is said to violate publication ethics standards and has brought Dr. Califf under additional criticism. The series of articles the doctor co-authored focused on clinical trials (PCTs). The series reportedly criticized current FDA standards pertaining to informed consent and patient risk in favor of less regulation for the pharmaceutical industry.

Do you think Bernie Sander’s objection will upset Dr. Califf’s rise to the head of the FDA?

[Photo credit: FDA]