Dr. Robert Califf, President Barack Obama's nominee to lead the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015, before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on his nomination. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

By Martha Rosenberg


It is hard to believe only four senators opposed the confirmation of Robert Califf, who was approved [recently] as the next FDA commissioner.

Califf, chancellor of clinical and translational research at Duke University until recently, received money from 23 drug companies including the giants like Johnson & Johnson, Lilly, Merck, Schering Plough and GSK according to a disclosure statement on the website of Duke Clinical Research Institute.

Not merely receiving research funds, Califf also served as a high level Pharma officer, say press reports. Medscape, the medical website, discloses that Califf “served as a director, officer, partner, employee, advisor, consultant or trustee for Genentech.” Portola Pharmaceuticals says Califf served on its board of directors until leaving for the FDA.

In disclosure information for a 2013 article in Circulation, Califf also lists financial links to Gambro, Regeneron, Gilead, AstraZeneca, Roche and other companies and equity positions in four medical companies. Gilead is the maker of the $1000-a-pill hepatitis C drug AlterNet recently wrote about. This is FDA commissioner material?

Califf has gone on record that collaboration between industry and regulators is a good thing. He told NPR, “Many of us consult with the pharmaceutical industry, which I think is a very good thing. They need ideas and then the decision about what they do is really up to the person who is funding the study.” What?

He is known for defending Vioxx which is reported to have caused at least 50,000 heart attacks and events before its withdrawal. (Merck is said to have known about Vioxx’ cardio effects but marketed the blockbuster drug anyway.)

Califf was also Obama’s choice for FDA Commissioner. Califf’s confirmation amounts to a handover of the agency to Big Pharma.