FDA Commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, unexpectedly announced his departure from the agency this week. Experts were puzzled by his announcement since he has received high marks from the administration, industry and even some consumer groups.
We initially had serious concerns about Dr. Gottlieb. He had close ties to the pharmaceutical industry. The editor emeritus of Modern Healthcare (April 8, 2017), Merrill Goozner, articulated our concerns:
“Dr. Scott Gottlieb is by far the most conflicted person nominated to run the 111-year-old Food and Drug Administration. He’s received payments from or invested in dozens of companies with business before the agency, earning millions of dollars in the process.”
FDA Commissioner Gottlieb Has Been Appreciated:
As FDA Commissioner, Dr. Gottlieb has avoided scandal. The agency has run reasonably well, without the kinds of nasty headlines that some other agencies have encountered. He was well liked by people inside and outside government.
Alex Azar, Gottlieb’s boss, is head of Health and Human Services (HHS). Azar came from the pharmaceutical industry. He said that Dr. Gottlieb was:
“an exemplary public health leader, aggressive advocate for American patients, and passionate promoter of innovation.”
FDA Commissioner Gottlieb Nails Nicotine:
Dr. Gottlieb has worked hard to discourage teen vaping. He has been an outspoken critic of pharmacy chains that sell tobacco products to minors. Just this week the FDA Commissioner went after Walgreens, saying:
“As we noted last month, in total, the company’s stores have racked up almost 1,800 violations across the country. They’re currently the top violator among pharmacies that sell tobacco products, with 22 percent of the more than 6,350 stores that we inspected having illegally sold tobacco products to minors. Both the rate of violations and sheer volume of violative inspections of Walgreens stores are disturbing, particularly since the company positions itself as a health-and-wellness-minded business. This cannot possibly come as a surprise to corporate leadership, which is why I want to sit down with them to discuss the important role they play, as a nationwide retailer, in curbing this epidemic.”
This statement from the FDA Commissioner on Monday, March 4, 2019 makes it seem as if he would be looking forward to sitting down with Walgreen’s corporate leadership in the not-too-distant future to discuss cigarette sales to teenagers. And yet the next day he dropped a bombshell!
Scot Gottlieb Resigns and Surprises Everyone!
The day after he spanked Walgreens and other pharmacies that sell cigarettes to minors, he resigned. The letter, dated March 5, 2019, came as a surprise to just about everyone inside and outside of government.
In a Tweet dated January 3, 2019 Dr. Gottlieb stated:
“I’ve heard from friends contacted by an online pharma news pub that’s preparing a story speculating that I’m leaving #FDA. I want to be very clear – I’m not leaving. We’ve got a lot of important policy we’ll advance this year. I look forward to sharing my 2019 strategic roadmap soon.”
What happened between Monday and Tuesday of this week? All of a sudden, the FDA Commissioner went from looking forward to sharing and implementing his grand vision and talking to Walgreens’ executives, to saying goodbye. That is after he insisted he was “not leaving.”
Some commentators speculate that his efforts against teen vaping, menthol cigarettes and his stance against selling cigarettes to minors might have got him into hot water with anti-regulation conservatives.
The New York Times noted (March 5, 2019):
“Dr. Gottlieb has been subject to increasing pressure from some Republicans in Congress and his former associates in the conservative movement for his tough stance against youth vaping and traditional cigarettes. A coalition of influential conservative groups recently asked the White House to block some key parts of the F.D.A.’s strategy to prevent youths from vaping. Republican Senator Richard Burr blasted the commissioner on the Senate floor for his proposal to ban menthol cigarettes.”
The Family Gambit:
Dr. Gottlieb’s explanation for the sudden departure is that he wants to spend more time with his wife and young children. We understand how important it is to spend more time with family, but that explanation is a little too pat for our taste. His January Tweet suggested that he had a lot more he wanted to do at the FDA.
We will likely never know why FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb is leaving the Food and Drug Administration so suddenly. We did take him to task on his Valentine’s day Tweet. You can read about it at this link. We certainly hope we didn’t hurt his feelings too much with our snarky response.
We welcome comments on Commissioner Gottlieb’s departure. Perhaps someone within the FDA will share an anonymous tip about this mystery.