Drug company executives may see John Castellani, the new choice to run the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, as a coalition builder, but representatives for at least two prominent consumer advocacy groups are viewing the appointment with skepticism.
PhRMA's new chief
Castellani seen as coalition builder, but some skeptical
Castellani, most recently head of the Business Roundtable, a group representing the interests of big business, was appointed president and CEO of PhRMA last week. He succeeds Billy Tauzin, who had held the top job for roughly five years before announcing his plans to step down in February. AstraZeneca Executive Director and CEO David Brennan, who headed PhRMA's executive search committee, said in a written statement that Castellani would bring “exceptional policymaking” and coalition-building experience to PhRMA. “He will contribute mightily to our mission in a time of dynamic change,” Brennan said.
By most accounts, Castellani is seen as a business leader with significant connections in both the Democratic and Republican camps. He will take over leadership of PhRMA on Sept. 1 and will arrive at a time when the industry is facing intensified scrutiny over transparency in clinical trial outcomes. Last week, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) accused GlaxoSmithKline of withholding from the Food and Drug Administration research that shows the beleaguered diabetes drug Avandia causes heart problems. Castellani will also arrive following a period of rocky leadership by Tauzin, a former Republican Louisiana congressman whose support of the healthcare reform bill put him at odds with some of PhRMA's membership. Tauzin, who spent 15 years in the House of Representatives as a Democrat before switching parties, was also viewed as someone with few relationships among Democrats, said observers.
“Tauzin was partisan, but it was sort of a Nixon and China dynamic: He made the decision to support healthcare reform,” said Robert Restuccia, executive director of Community Catalyst, an organization that founded the drug affordability and access group the Prescription Project. Restuccia said he believes that, given the opportunity, Castellani would have made different decisions regarding PhRMA's support of healthcare reform.
“I don't think there's anything surprising about that,” Restuccia said. “I only wish that this appointment was about improving healthcare,” he added. “I think PhRMA is a special-interest group with a lot of power, and fundamentally they are looking to protect the interests of drug companies.”
Others were more critical of Castellani's selection.
“It's a troubling appointment,” said Steven Findlay, senior health policy analyst for Consumers Union, about Castellani's selection. “It seems to signal that PhRMA intends to continue to be in opposition to the new administration and the FDA, and to continue being entrenched in its current worldview,” he added. “It does not bode well for consumers or public health or PhRMA's relationship with federal health agencies.”
Send us a letter
Have an opinion about this story? Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor, and we may publish it in print.