Do you generally prefer that your prescription medications work? That they cure the things that they are purported to cure? That when you pop a pill into your mouth it actually accomplishes the biophysical task for which it was marketed as a treatment? Then you may not be pleased with the news that Donald Trump is reportedly considering whether to nominate Jim O’Neill, an associate of billionaire Trump backer and transition adviser Peter Thiel, as head of the Food and Drug Administration. As both Bloomberg and the health news site Stat note, O’Neill is known for his arch-libertarian views and has previously said that drug companies should not have to prove that their products are effective in order to start selling them, only that they are safe.
“We should reform FDA so there is approving drugs after their sponsors have demonstrated safety—and let people start using them, at their own risk, but not much risk of safety,” O’Neill said in a 2014 speech. “Let’s prove efficacy after they’ve been legalized.”
O’Neill is a managing director at Mithril Capital Management, a Thiel venture fund that has invested in some medical tech companies. He’s also a board member of Thiel’s Seasteading Institute, which seeks to establish utopian libertarian communities on international waters. Like Thiel, the man is apparently interested in reversing aging as well and is a frequent speaker at biotech events. His main government experience was a stint at the Department of Health and Human Services under the George W. Bush administration. He has said he was “surprised” to discover “that the actual human beings at the Food and Drug Administration like science; they like curing disease and they actually like approving drugs and devices and biologics.”
If you were waiting to see how Thiel’s influence might manifest itself in the incoming administration, well, here you go. Presumably, landing a guy like O’Neill at the FDA would be a boon to biotech investment.
What are the chances he actually gets picked? During the transition period, team Trump has occasionally floated the names of truly radical Cabinet candidates—Sheriff David Clarke for Department of Homeland Security, former BB&T CEO John Allison for Treasury—before pulling back and picking someone more mainstream. So I’m kind of hoping that’s what’s going on here. Trump is also apparently considering former FDA Deputy Commissioner Dr. John Gottlieb for the job.
But who knows? Donald Trump does love snake oil, after all.