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Proposed FDA Chief Scott Gotlieb to Recuse Himself of Certain Duties for One Year

— March 31, 2017

President Trump’s nominee to head the FDA, Scott Gottlieb, plans to recuse himself from certain duties for up to a year.

Compared to some Trump’s other cabinet picks and department head selections, Gottlieb seems like a qualified and non-controversial candidate on paper. A licensed physician, he spent years overseeing an office of the FDA during the administration of George W. Bush.

He has not, however, been without critics. Liberal members of Congress have repeatedly called attention Dr. Gottlieb’s close ties with the pharmaceutical industry – an industry which, if he is to head the FDA, he would be tasked with overseeing.

For the better part of the last decade, Gottlieb has received massive payouts from healthcare companies he’d worked with. As part of an ethics agreement announced Wednesday, the doctor would recuse himself from making decisions which would affect 20 corporations. While the move is intended to show Gottlieb’s honest intentions going into the FDA, he has long been lambasted as a poor pick for an important agency.

“He is basically entangled in an unprecedented web of ties to big pharma,” said Dr. Michael Carome, director of a health research group at Public Citizen. “He is someone who has been an industry shill and has spent most of his career dedicated to promoting the financial interests of pharmaceutical corporations.”

From 2013 through 2015, Gottlieb earned $150,000 advertising Vertex Pharmaceuticals. Over the past several years, he’s also netted $87,000 from GlaxoSmithKline and a cool $1.85 million from T.R. Winston.

Whether or not Gottlieb’s associations with the pharmaceutical industry would sway his decisions as head of the FDA is up for debate. He would not be the first FDA commissioner with financial interests in the sector, and neither would he be the first Trump appointment who once worked in the same field he’s tasked with controlling.

Scott Gottlieb speaks at a conference while gesticulating.
Controversy has surrounded Gottlieb’s appointment as some liberal Congresspeople and media figures have labeled him a “shill” for Big Pharma; image courtesy of Chip East, Reuters

Two of the key promises being made by Gottlieb and Trump would have major consequences for the state of American healthcare. Both men are vocal proponents of hastening the rate at which the FDA would approve new drugs, allowing pills and antibacterials to enter the market in less time. Gottlieb has also suggested giving doctors a greater say in evaluating the effectiveness of prescriptions; that approach has been called out as being unscientific, given the lack of laboratory controls and sample sizes available to most small-town physicians.

Daniel Carpenter, a professor at Harvard University, voiced a mixed opinion about Gottlieb which seems typical of many in the healthcare field.

“[He’s] the least problematic of a very sorry pool of candidates,” Carpenter said. At the time, other considerations for the post included two Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs with zero experience in healthcare.

But, Carpenter warned, if he is confirmed, “He would be the most interest-conflicted commissioner in American history, by far.”


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