Biden Lets Longtime Pharma Lawyer Keep Eye on Drug Policy

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( – Despite a clear conflict of interest, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) voted Thursday to confirm Robert Califf as the new commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.).

Biden nominated Califf in May, but critics immediately criticized him as having deep ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

He has served as an attorney for the American Medical Association, the industry-funded patient advocacy group.

During his confirmation hearing, he told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that his interest in drug regulation — his role as the government’s “drug czar” — was “a position of great expertise and never intended as a position of public service.”

“I’ve only been involved in that role since I came to the Senate,” he told the committee. “And I’ve had the opportunity now to not just be involved, but to participate in the process about how to think about this issue with the government and the pharmaceutical industry. And so I think that that experience, and my previous role in the Senate, have enabled me to be as well informed as I possibly can be in the issues.”

Califf is one of five nominees to be picked to head up the seven federal drug agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Federal Trade Commission.

Earlier this week, the president told reporters at the White House that President Obama looks forward to a “much more transparent process” in his drug policy, and he specifically called out critics who are concerned that the “drug czar” would hold the key to appointing judges that would approve the President’s drug agenda.

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