FDA Directors Jump to Pfizer Draws Criticism Over Potential Conflicts of Interest

Scott Gottlieb, the former Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), was elected to the board of directors of pharmaceutical company Pfizer in February 2020, raising concerns about potential conflicts of interest. Gottlieb implemented several industry-friendly policies while at the FDA, including speeding up the review process for new drugs and promoting the approval of generic versions.

“Gottlieb’s decision to join Pfizer raises red flags about the potential for conflicts of interest,” said Sarah Sorscher, Deputy Director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. “His close ties to the pharmaceutical industry may influence his decision-making and lead to the approval of drugs that may not be in the best interest of consumers.”

Pfizer has stated that Gottlieb will not be involved in the company’s interactions with the FDA and will not work on any matters directly involving the company. However, some experts have expressed doubts about the effectiveness of these measures. “The pharmaceutical industry is highly interconnected, and it may be difficult to completely separate Gottlieb’s work at Pfizer from his previous role at the FDA,” said Dr. Aaron S. Kesselheim, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

This hiring highlights the close relationship between the pharmaceutical industry and regulatory agencies like the FDA. It is crucial for these agencies to be transparent about their relationships with industry and to prioritize the interests of consumers.

According to data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the pharmaceutical industry is the fourth-largest spender on TV ads in the US, with $6.6 billion spent on TV ads in the past year. “TV and radio stations that benefit hugely from these commercials may turn a blind eye to the dangers posed by the pharmaceutical industry because of the advertisement revenue they receive,” said Gary Schwitzer, founder of healthnewsreview.org.

In 2019, generic drug manufacturer Ranbaxy, maker of Lipitor, a cholesterol treatment used by millions of patients in the US, was ordered to pay a $500 million fine for “selling subpar drugs and making false statements to the FDA about its manufacturing practices at two factories in India,” as reported by investigative journalist Katherine Eban in her book “Bottle of Lies.”

The influence of the private sector, particularly the pharmaceutical industry, on the media has been a topic of concern for some time. “When news organizations are sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry, the credibility of their news and other information becomes questionable,” said Elisabeth Rosenthal, editor-in-chief of Kaiser Health News. “They may release incorrect information in an effort to protect their benefactors, incomplete information so as not to expose the weaknesses of their sponsors, or withhold the truth entirely from the public. In any of these cases, there is misinformation and dishonesty, which is not what journalism should entail.”

Additionally, the hiring of Gottlieb by Pfizer highlights the revolving door that often exists between the pharmaceutical industry and government regulatory agencies. This revolving door can lead to a lack of independence and objectivity in the decision-making process at regulatory agencies, as individuals may be more inclined to prioritize the interests of their future or past employers over the interests of the public. It is important for there to be clear and strict ethical guidelines in place to prevent such conflicts of interest from occurring.

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