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Bernie Sanders joined two other senators in blocking Obama's nomination for FDA chief. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr/cc)

Sanders Puts Block on Obama's Big Pharma Nominee for FDA

'We need someone who will work to substantially lower drug prices, implement rules to safely import brand-name drugs from Canada and hold companies accountable who defraud our government.'

Nadia Prupis

Senator Bernie Sanders put a hold on President Barack Obama's nominee to take over the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Tuesday, joining with two other senators who have also objected to Dr. Robert M. Califf's nomination, citing his ties to corporate drug manufacturers.

"Dr. Califf’s extensive ties to the pharmaceutical industry give me no reason to believe that he would make the FDA work for ordinary Americans, rather than just the CEOs of pharmaceutical companies," Sanders said in a statement on Tuesday. "We need someone who will work to substantially lower drug prices, implement rules to safely import brand-name drugs from Canada and hold companies accountable who defraud our government."

As a researcher at Duke University, Califf took millions in funding and "consultation fees" from pharmaceutical giants like Eli Lilly, Merck, and Novartis. The New York Times once described him as the "ultimate industry insider."

Sanders joins Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) in halting Califf's nomination. Markey, who intervened late last week, said he would continue the blockade until the FDA changes its approval process for opioid painkillers, citing the agency's decision to use OxyContin to treat children as young as 11.

Recent measures to combat rising heroin use in U.S. suburbs and rural areas have highlighted the link between prescription medication and drug addiction.

On Tuesday, Sanders also cautioned that the trend of over-prescribing drugs has come in tandem with the price gouging of life-saving medications for millions.

"I share Sen. Markey’s concerns that the FDA must change the way it approaches addiction. Too many Americans are dying from what has become an opioid epidemic," Sanders said.

Califf became deputy commissioner at the FDA in 2015. In October, Sanders said he would vote against his nomination, stating, "At a time when millions of Americans cannot afford to purchase the prescription drugs they need, we need a new leader at the FDA who is prepared to stand up to the pharmaceutical companies and work to substantially lower drug prices. Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that Dr. Califf is not that person."


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