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Former FDA head Gottlieb joins Pfizer board

He left the agency in April after a two-year stint.

Scott Gottlieb speaks at his Senate confirmation hearing to be commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration in April 2017. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Scott Gottlieb, the former Food and Drug Administration commissioner who left the agency earlier this year, is joining the board of directors of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, the company announced Friday.

Ian Read, the company’s executive chairman and former chief executive, said Gottlieb’s “expertise in health care, public policy and the industry will be an asset to our company.” Gottlieb, in a statement, said Pfizer’s broad portfolio and global presence give the company “the ability to have a deep and positive public health impact and I feel privileged” to be a part of the effort.

Critics immediately decried the move as the latest example of the “revolving door” in Washington between federal regulators and the businesses they oversee.

“Such moves harm the reputation of the FDA,” said Leigh Turner, a bioethicist at the University of Minnesota, in a tweet. “Today’s news reinforces concerns that there is too cozy a relationship between the FDA and the companies it is supposed to regulate.”

During his tenure as commissioner, Gottlieb pressed for speedier generic-drug approvals, encouraged new types of clinical trials and pushed for greater use of biosimilar medications to lower drug costs. He also emerged as an outspoken critic of teen vaping.

Before becoming commissioner in May 2017, Gottlieb worked at the venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates, was a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and served on the boards of several smaller companies. He also did some work for Pfizer. Since leaving the FDA in early April, he has gone back to working at New Enterprise and the AEI. He also has become a regular contributor to CNBC.

Almost every FDA commissioner in the last 40 years has joined the board of a drug or health-care company at some point after leaving the agency, Walid Gellad, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, said in a tweet after Pfizer announced the news about Gottlieb.

Gellad also tweeted a table he compiled that showed that David Kessler, the FDA commissioner during the George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations, did not join such a board. According to the table, examples of commissioners who have joined boards include Mark McClellan, who was the FDA chief during the George W. Bush administration and is on the board of Johnson & Johnson, and Robert Califf, FDA head during the Obama administration. Califf is a board member for Cytokinetics.

Stat, a Boston-based news website that covers health and medicine, reported that last year that Pfizer board members were paid more than $300,000 in cash and stock.

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