FDA Nominee Likes Drugs, but Not Supplements

L ast September, President Obama nominated Dr. Robert Califf, a so-called leading scientific researcher, as the next commissioner of the FDA, a sprawling agency that oversees everything from food and drugs to tobacco, dietary supplements, and cosmetics. Robert Califf doesn’t think his many very lucrative dealings with pharmaceutical companies—that have earned him hundreds of thousands of dollars over several years in consulting, speaking fees, and research grants—will affect his objectivity in regulating the industry. That’s what he told Congress in November.

But he does think that nutritional supplements need to be tested like drugs according to an article in Forbes magazine.1 “Does Dr. Califf actually think that vitamin C should be regulated the same way as Oxycontin?” said Dan Fabricant, PhD, executive director and CEO of NPA and former FDA Director of the Division of Dietary Supplement Programs. “Treating supplements like pharmaceuticals would raise production costs to a level that would limit consumers’ access to the supplements they take everyday. We are hopeful that Dr. Califf gets the opportunity to clarify his position during his confirmation hearing next week.”2 That’s already been held, with few objections from most members of Congress, except for Senators Bernie Saunders and Elizabeth Warren, but they didn’t bring up supplements—only drugs.

“He’s widely respected by the medical community and represents a terrific choice to lead the FDA,” said Dr. Steven Nissen, head of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. “He has good ideas but he doesn't run over people with them. He will get along well with Congress.” The Cleveland Clinic has a considerable anti-supplement reputation (see “Carnitine Significantly Reduces All-Cause Mortality” in the June 2013 issue).

During his tenure at Duke University, Califf racked up a long history of extensive financial ties to multiple drug and medical device companies, including Amgen, AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, Johnson & Johnson, Merck Sharp & Dohme and Sanofi-Aventis, to name a few. Is Congress unaware? No FDA commissioner has had such close financial relationships with industries regulated by the agency prior to being appointed. Congressional dismissal of this is reprehensible.

While at Duke University, Califf ran a clinical research center that received the majority of its multi-million dollar budget from Pharma. According to financial disclosures from last year, Dr. Califf received money for consulting with at least seven drug and medical device companies, and six other companies supported his university salary including Merck, Novartis, and Eli Lilly. One paper he wrote lists financial support from more than twenty companies. The New York Times notes that. “he has deeper ties to the pharmaceutical industry than any FDA commissioner in recent memory.”3

The FDA has increasingly been doing the bidding of Big Pharma, since the drug companies pay the agency’s bills (through fast tracking) and provide lucrative post-government employment opportunities. According to the Alliance for Natural Health, “Califf’s nomination shows that federal officials are dropping all pretenses of picking someone who would actually protect public health or stand up to industry, and are shamelessly installing a fox to guard the henhouse.” If you’d like to take action, go here: http://www.anh-usa.org/action-alert-oppose-dr-califf-as-fda-commissioner/


  1. Langreth R. From fish oil to snake oil: glaxo fish oil pill bombs in heart rhythm study, Forbes. November 15, 2010. http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertlangreth/2010/11/15/from-fish-oil-to-snake-oil-glaxo-fish-oil-pill-bombs-in-heart-rhythm-study/ Accessed: December 1, 2015.
  2. NPA seeks clarification on FDA nominee’s position on supplement regulation. Nutraceuticals World. November 13, 2015. http://www.nutraceuticalsworld.com/contents/view_breaking-news/2015-11-13/npa-seeks-clarification-on-fda-nominees-position-on-supplement-regulation. Accessed: December 1, 2015.
  3. Tavernese S. F.D.A. nominee Califf’s ties to drug makers worry some. The New York Times. September 19, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/20/health/fda-nominee-califfs-ties-to-drug-industry-raise-questions.html. Accessed: December 1, 2015.

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