Oct 9 (Reuters) - U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, on Friday said he will vote against Dr. Robert Califf as the next commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, citing the nominee's close ties to the pharmaceutical industry, which he would oversee.
"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," Sanders said in a press release announcing his intention to vote against Califf.
Opposition by the Vermont senator, at a time when soaring U.S. prices for prescription medicines have come under fire by politicians, payers and patient advocacy groups, could signal a rocky road for President Obama's nominee at upcoming Senate confirmation hearings. Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has also made reining in healthcare costs a centerpiece of her campaign.
"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," Sanders said.
Under current U.S. laws, decisions by the FDA are not allowed to take cost or pricing into account. The agency has been criticized for being too easy on the drug industry when it comes to approvals and oversight of new medicines.
Califf, a prominent cardiologist and researcher from Duke University, joined the FDA as a deputy commissioner in January. If confirmed, he would succeed Dr. Stephen Ostroff, who has served as acting commissioner since Dr. Margaret Hamburg stepped down earlier this year.
Industry observers had not expected Califf to face significant opposition when he was nominated for the post in September, given his experience and credentials, and many praised the choice at the time.
In the press release, Sanders cited reports that Califf's clinical research center received the majority of its funding from the pharmaceutical and medical device industry, and that he received consulting fees from drugmakers.
The FDA did not immediately respond to emails and calls seeking comment.
While several medical organizations praised Califf's nomination, Sanders is not the first to voice opposition.
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, earlier this month, expressed reservations about Califf as FDA commissioner saying, "his cozy relationship with the pharmaceutical industry is simply too close for comfort." (Reporting by Bill Berkrot; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)
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