Sanders takes stand against FDA nominee for 'Big Pharma' ties

Sanders takes stand against FDA nominee for 'Big Pharma' ties
© Getty Images

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders sings Obama's praises for stopping Dakota pipeline Feds deny permit for Dakota Access pipeline Of principle and compromise: A paradox within America’s political discourse MORE (I-Vt.) on Friday pledged to oppose President Obama’s pick to lead the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), blasting the nominee as a loyalist to the pharmaceutical industry.  

“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,” Sanders said in a statement. “Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that Dr. [Robert] Califf is not that person.”

The Democratic presidential candidate announced his opposition shortly after speaking with the candidate. Califf, a cardiologist who joined the FDA in February, has come under fire for his ties to pharmaceutical giants, including $100,000 worth of consulting work in 2014.

During his presidential bid, Sanders has been highly critical of the pharmaceutical industry. He's accused CEOs of unfairly raising prices in order to pad their bottom line.

“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,” the senator wrote in his statement. 

Califf has made clear that he believes regulation hinders growth of the healthcare industry — a stance that has made some Democrats anxious but made him a top pick of many Republicans.

The Obama administration put out a statement on Friday afternoon defending Califf, praising him for dedicating his career "to advancing biomedical research, including the rigorous evaluation of the safety, efficacy and appropriate use of both new medical products and those already on the market."

If confirmed by the Senate, Califf will face pressure to accelerate the rate of drug approvals from the powerful pharmaceutical lobby.

Sanders’s opposition throws a wrench into what was expected to be a smooth confirmation process. Sanders sits on the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which holds the power to advance the nomination.

The chairman of that committee, Sen. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderKey Republicans ask Trump to keep on NIH director McConnell tees up medical cures bill Speculation and starting points: accreditation, a new administration and a new Congress MORE (R-Tenn.), has touted Califf’s “impressive” credentials. Conservative groups, like the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, and advocacy groups, like the American Heart Association and Friends of Cancer Research, have also cheered him.