The departure of Scott Gottlieb from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday is a potential blow to Silicon Valley.
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In his two years as commissioner of the FDA, Gottlieb, a doctor and former venture capitalist, gained a reputation as a proponent of health-care innovation, including pharmaceutical companies bringing new drugs to market.
He helped to establish a digital health software program called Pre-Cert to provide a way for tech companies like Apple and Samsung to get quicker approval for low-risk health products. Last September, Apple received clearance to market an electrocardiogram app and sensor on its Apple Watch, the company’s biggest move into the health-care market.
Gottlieb issued a statement at the time to encourage Apple and other tech companies to push into health care, especially if they could help consumers engage more proactively with their health.
“Scott did a lot culturally to make the agency easier to work with,” said Bob Kocher, a partner at venture capital firm Venrock, investing in health-technology. “I think he’ll be missed by many in the tech industry, including the start-ups.”
Silicon Valley has long feared too much regulation, particularly in the health sector. Gottlieb said in last year’s statement, which he penned with FDA’s Jeffrey Shuren, that health care has been historically slow to adopt new technologies, and that regulators would do their part to help.
“The FDA is working to modernize our regulatory approach to better enable and more efficiently spur innovation in this novel area to improve the health and quality of life of consumers and patients,” he wrote.
Robin Goldstein, who worked on Apple’s health team before stepping down in late 2017, said Gottlieb’s efforts were applauded in the tech sector.
“He struck me as both smart and thoughtful,” Goldstein said. He was “deeply aware of the risks inherent in trying to bring change to the FDA, where lives are at stake, and yet willing to explore innovation originating from Silicon Valley in an effort to begin to reimagine the future of health care and medicine,” she said.
In his resignation letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Gottlieb didn’t say why he was leaving. President Trump sent two tweets announcing Azar’s departure, but didn’t say what spurred the change.
With Gottlieb departing, Kocher and others at the intersection of health and technology will have to wait and see if the Trump administration changes course.
“This administration has been generally pretty friendly to the private sector in encouraging competition,” Kocher said. “So I would assume that there will be others in the agency who will remain highly engaged with Silicon Valley.”