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Our Take: Gottlieb out as FDA chief

Mar 11, 2019

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar confirmed Tuesday that FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has resigned, effective in about a month. Dr. Gottlieb said he wanted to spend more time with his wife and three daughters, after making the weekly commute from Washington D.C. to Connecticut over the last three years.

“All of us at HHS are proud of the remarkable work Commissioner Gottlieb has done at the FDA,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said. “He has been an exemplary public health leader, aggressive advocate for American patients and passionate promoter of innovation. The public health of our country is better off for the work Scott and the entire FDA team have done over the last two years.”

Our TakeNo one saw this coming. And despite the “spend more time with family” reason for leaving—Washington-speak for “I’m leaving for a different reason”—our sources say that it’s true.

The Washington Post reported that the move was particularly surprising, given that he had recently hired new staff members and was aggressively pushing policy initiatives, including measures to quell the opioid crisis and eliminate the rebate system for prescription drugs.

The 46-year-old physician, venture capitalist, philanthropist, and cancer survivor was unlike any of his predecessors in recent memory. While some viewed him with skepticism upon taking the job, considering industry ties and investments, Gottlieb quickly began making a name for himself, issuing lengthly press releases detailing agency initiatives.

Gottlieb also became a prolific user of social media, at least by FDA commissioner standards.

Gottlieb will be most remembered for his successful drive to expedite generic drug approvals in an effort to reduce health care costs. In Fiscal Year 2018, the FDA approved a record total of 781 generic drugs during its 2018 fiscal year, up from the previous record of 763 set in 2018.

He also fought the e-cigarette industry, helping to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes in convenience store outlets.

We saw Gottlieb as a competent bureaucrat—and we mean that in the most complimentary way—similar to the job that Seema Verma has done as CMS Administrator and Alex Azar has as HHS Secretary. Most of the time they keep their heads down, focused on moving initiatives forward and staying away from politics (as much as one can expect).

Gottlieb set the bar high for his predecessor. He will be missed.

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