Elizabeth Warren calls on Trump's former FDA commissioner to resign from Pfizer


President Donald Trump signed an executive order Monday that calls for upfront disclosure by hospitals of actual prices for common tests and procedures to keep costs down. (June 24)

WASHINGTON – Sen. Elizabeth Warren, on Tuesday, sent a letter to former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb calling on him to resign from the board of the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.

Gottlieb had resigned from the FDA in early April, and Pfizer announced at the end of June that Gottlieb had joined the company’s board of directors. 

Warren, a Democratic presidential candidate, said Gottlieb’s appointment raised questions about potential conflicts of interest. Pfizer makes drugs like Lipitor, Diflucan, and Viagra that Gottlieb previously regulated in his role at the FDA.

Warren argued that “ this kind of revolving door influence-peddling smacks of corruption, and makes the American people rightfully cynical and distrustful about whether high-level Trump Administration officials are working for them, or for their future corporate employers.

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More: Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb joins Pfizer’s board of directors

She then called on him to resign from Pfizer. 

“You should rectify your mistake and immediately resign from your position as a Pfizer board member,” Warren wrote. “Doing so would send a strong and necessary message to the American people about the importance of government ethics and the integrity of current and former federal officials.”

Gottlieb responds

In a Tuesday television interview, Gottlieb defended his decision to join the board of Pfizer. 

Speaking on CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” Gottlieb said that “I worked with some large drugmakers before I came into the agency. It’s something I’m very proud of, it’s something where I can definitely make a lot of contributions over time. I made no bones about the fact that I had expertise in life sciences and I made my living trying to promote innovation in this sector prior to coming to the agency.”

In a later tweet, he said that he would address Sen. Warren’s concerns “promptly, directly, and privately.” 

Federal ethics rules mandate a “cooling off” period

Under federal ethics rules, former administration officials are barred from contacting any “officer or employee of the department or agency in which such person served within 1 year before such termination,” in what is referred to as a “cooling off” period. They are not barred, however, from joining corporate boards after they depart office. 

What have previous FDA commissioners done? 

Gottlieb’s move is not unusual compared to some previous FDA commissioners, who have also left for the private sector after they finished their government tenure. Andrew von Eschenbach, FDA Commissioner under George W. Bush, joined Greenleaf Health, a consulting firm that advises its clients about FDA regulation, as a Senior Advisor after stepping down from the FDA. 

Lester M. Crawford, Eschenbach’s predecessor, joined lobbying firm Policy Directions, Inc. after he departed the FDA. Crawford resigned from the FDA in September 2005 after failing to disclose financial conflicts of interest during his confirmation. The Justice Department later found Crawford guilty of lying about his ownership of stocks in companies regulated by the FDA, and a judge sentenced him to three years of probation and fined him $90,000, reported Fox News at the time. 

President Barack Obama’s FDA commissioners did not initially enter the private sector after completing their tenures at the FDA. Robert Califf, FDA commissioner from February 2016 to January 2017, was appointed to a leadership position at Duke University after leaving the FDA. He later joined the Board of Directors at Cytokinetics, a biopharmaceutical firm. Margaret Hamburg, Califf’s predecessor, serves as the Chair fo the Board for the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 

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