Scott Gottlieb. (Photographer: Toya Sarno Jordan/Bloomberg)

Donald Trump Just Lost His Most Popular Bureaucrat

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb is resigning and will leave the agency in a month, according to news reports that surfaced on Tuesday afternoon. And just like that, the Trump administration is set to lose one of its most competent officials.

Gottlieb, a physician and former deputy at the agency, decided to step down in part so he wouldn’t have to keep making the long commute to and from Connecticut, where he lives with his family, the reports said. His exit doesn’t appear to be coming under any cloud — in fact, not only will he leave with his reputation intact, he’ll do so having earned greater esteem. The Trump administration has arguably kept many officials around for too long. Gottlieb is one they should have convinced to stay.

When he was named FDA chief, Democrats were initially concerned that Gottlieb’s ties to the pharmaceutical industry and conservative institutions meant he’d go easy on drugmakers and be an ideologue. That hasn’t been the case. He’s avoided political controversy and is one of the few administration officials who has earned bipartisan praise.

Gottlieb, 46, ended up being more active on drug-pricing issues than previous commissioners. One of his biggest achievements has been speeding up generic drug approvals to a record pace. Speed hasn’t been the only goal. Gottlieb has also directed the FDA to prioritize cases where there are high prices and limited competition. It’s not a full solution to the drug-pricing problem, but could bring down the cost of excessively expensive older medicines.

He also hasn’t been afraid to use his agency and bully pulpit to target what he sees as abuses of the system by drugmakers, including their use of FDA risk-mitigation programs to delay generic competitors and maintain excessively high insulin prices.

Through all of that, he’s maintained a good relationship with pharma, due to efforts to modernize the agency and get new classes of drugs to market. Biotech stocks dropped on news of his departure, which wasn’t the case for his two most recent predecessors. 

Donald Trump Just Lost His Most Popular Bureaucrat

Gottlieb has been on the right side of a number of public-health issues, including his support of disease-preventing vaccinations in the face of anti-vaccine opposition as well as his efforts to combat antibiotic resistance. He’s also led aggressive efforts to rein in the opioid crisis and tobacco use, particularly e-cigarettes among young people. There’s still plenty of work to do on both issues, but Gottlieb’s work will have an impact. 

He’s done a better job than most officials of engaging with the public and communicating about his agency’s efforts, including via his active and interesting Twitter account, including Sunday “Tweetorials”:

The job of FDA commissioner isn’t a popularity contest, but Gottlieb has gained respect and goodwill by generally doing a good job. The number of press releases, speeches, and new regulations that came out of his office certainly give the impression that he’s been working hard. 

Donald Trump was reportedly considering an investor with no medical experience for the job before settling on Gottlieb. It will be a pleasant surprise if Gottlieb’s successor is as effective as he turned out to be. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Max Nisen is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering biotech, pharma and health care. He previously wrote about management and corporate strategy for Quartz and Business Insider.

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