Scott Gottlieb walks through the revolving door to the Pfizer board

Scott Gottlieb has joined the board of directors at Pfizer, giving the world’s largest drug maker crucial insights into the inner workings of the Trump administration.

The revolving door turns again.

After a two-year stint running the Food and Drug Administration, Scott Gottlieb has joined the board of directors at Pfizer, giving the world’s largest drug maker crucial insights into the inner workings of the Trump administration as it attempts to contain national angst over the rising cost of medicines.

And in doing so, Gottlieb is also picking up where he left before joining the agency, since he had been on the board of several smaller pharmaceutical companies and was also a partner at a venture capital firm that invests in life sciences companies.

“This is classic and it’s not surprising,” said Sidney Wolfe, a founder of Public Citizen Health Research Group and a long-time FDA watchdog, who had expressed concern about Gottlieb’s ties to industry before joining the agency. “Philosophically, he’s returning to the ecosystem where he’s most comfortable. And he’ll get paid very well for it, too.”

Last year, Pfizer board members — who are not employees — were given cash retainers of $142,500, plus Pfizer stock units that in 2019 are expected to be worth roughly $159,000. The board met seven times in 2018, although board members also sit on specific committees that also hold meetings.

“I’m proud of the affiliation. I’ve never been shy about my belief that America has the best biopharmaceutical sector in the world and this sector and its output of beneficial medicines is one of our great national achievements,” Gottlieb wrote us. “At the same time, I’m confident my record at FDA demonstrates I put the public health interest first and called balls and strikes based on the science and the public interest.”

In some respects, though, Gottlieb is not all that unusual.

Every FDA commissioner over the past 38 years has joined the board of a pharmaceutical company after leaving the agency, except for one — David Kessler, according to Walid Gellad, an associate professor of medicine and head of the Center for Pharmaceutical Policy and Prescribing at the University of Pittsburgh. It’s “a simple fact,” Gellad tweeted.

Of course, there is good reason. As someone who ran an agency that crafts policies and regulations that affect the fortunes of drug makers, a former FDA commissioner is a terrific catch. And this is especially true, given the tumult facing the pharmaceutical industry over not just pricing, but also efforts to approve medicines faster and setting the standards for those approvals.

Although Gottlieb spent just two years running the FDA, he set a whirlwind pace by issuing proclamations and writing blog posts on just about every topic that was before the agency. Moreover, he displayed keen political instincts navigating the stormy Trump administration, despite controversy over opioid painkillers and e-cigarettes.

For Pfizer, his arrival also occurs as the big drug maker seeks to become a bigger player in oncology and find new ways to grow, despite its heft. Ironically, Pfizer is the same company that a year ago infuriated Trump for defiantly raising prices on dozens of medicines. At the time, Trump lashed out at Ian Read, who was chief executive and still has a board seat. At the next meeting, Gottlieb and Read can reminisce.

Pfizer is not the only gig that Gottlieb has taken since leaving the FDA a few months ago. He has also resumed work at the American Enterprise Institute and New Enterprise Associates, the venture capital firm.