Vermont pharma foe gets FTC nod

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The nomination of former Vermont assistant attorney general Julie Brill to serve on the Federal Trade Commission would, if confirmed, be the latest of several appointments to give the healthcare industry pause.

Brill was the architect of Vermont policies mandating transparency in payments to physicians and prohibiting commercial provision of prescription data. In February, she left Vermont for North Carolina, where she oversees the consumer protection and antitrust divisions of the state's Department of Justice.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said her nomination to serve as one of five FTC commissioners offers “a tonic for an FTC that too often over the last decade has languished while consumers' interests have given way to special interests.”

Also nominated for FTC commissioner was Edith Ramirez, an LA-based corporate lawyer. Both are Democrats and would replace Bush appointees whose seven-year terms are up.

John Kamp, executive director of the Coalition for Healthcare Communication, called Brill “a very effective assistant AG” who favored regulation but “was always willing to listen to the industry on major matters.”

In addition to regulating the advertising and promotion of OTC products, FTC has jurisdiction over mega-mergers such as those of Pfizer/Wyeth and Merck/Schering-Plough.

Other appointments of concern to industry include those of two former members of pharma foe Rep. Henry Waxman's staff. Ann Witt returned to FDA's Office of Policy, Planning and Budget, having previously served stints at DDMAC and as an aide to commissioner David Kessler. Principal deputy commissioner Dr. Joshua Sharfstein was a Waxman staffer from 2001 to 2005, when he became commissioner of public health for Baltimore. In addition, Jeanne Ireland, previously chief health advisor to Waxman's Committee on Energy and Commerce, was named assistant commissioner for legislation.

Perhaps no appointee has raised so many eyebrows as Peter Lurie, who joined FDA's Office of Policy from Public Citizen's Health Research Group, where he was deputy director and a fierce critic of both the healthcare industry and the agency.

On the other hand, John Taylor, previously EVP health at trade group BIO and a past government affairs exec at Abbott, was just named counselor to the commissioner, tasked with heading the agency's crisis response functions and “advising on a range of policy and regulatory matters.”

Last week, Porter Novelli's Peter Pitts told MM&M that, with the exception of Lurie, “Most of Dr. Hamburg's appointments have been solid.” Said Pitts: “Most importantly, I am completely convinced that she is 100% in charge of the agency and has the trust and support of the FDA's senior staff.
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