Sen. Bernie Sanders vowed on Friday to vote against confirming President Barack Obama’s nominee, Dr. Robert Califf, to lead the Food and Drug Administration, citing his “extensive ties” with pharmaceutical companies he would oversee.
Sanders, an independent who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, decried Califf’s consideration in a statement and questioned his ability to lowering pharmaceutical prices.
“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,” said Sanders. “Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that Dr. Califf is not that person.” "Instead of listening to the demands of the pharmaceutical industry and their 1,400 lobbyists, it is about time that the FDA and Congress started listening to the overwhelming majority of the American people who believe that medicine is too expensive."
Califf, a cardiologist and researcher at Duke University, joined the FDA in March as its deputy commissioner. President Obama tapped on Califf to become the FDA top chief last month, a move some health groups lauded. But it drew criticisms from others, including the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. It said Califf's "cozy relationship with the pharmaceutical industry is simply too close for comfort"
According to The New York Times, Califf led a multimillion-dollar clinical research center at Duke University, where more than 60% of its funding came from drug companies. A 2014 conflict of interest disclosure statement on the University’s website listed six drug companies, including Eli Lilly and Merk, two of the world's leading pharmaceutical companies, underwritten his salary and paid him for consulting services.
"It is time for the United States to join the rest of the industrialized world by implementing prescription drug policies that work for everybody, not just the CEOs of the pharmaceutical industry," said Sanders.
A spokesman from the Department of Health and Human Services told msnbc on Friday that Califf donated the consulting fess he received from pharmaceutical companies to charities.
"Dr. Califf is the right person with the right experience to build on the FDA’s unsurpassed record of protecting public health while encouraging innovation and the introduction of new life-saving therapies and products to the market," the official said in a statement.
Under U.S. laws, the FDA is not responsible to control the prices charged for marketed drugs. However, critics argued that the federal agency is too lenient on drug companies with the approvals and oversight of new medicines.
Califf’s confirmation will first come before the Senate health committee, which Sanders sits on. Both the self-described democratic socialist and Clinton, the front runner in national poll, have made the soaring healthcare costs a centerpiece of their campaign.