WHEN the names of potential candidates for the new head of America’s regulatory agency for drugs, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), were first circulated, you could almost hear the sound of jaws hitting desks throughout the pharmaceuticals industry. One contender was Jim O’Neill, head of Mithril Capital Management, an investment firm, who is such a libertarian that he doesn’t think the FDA should insist that medicines have to work. Another was Balaji Srinivasan, an entrepreneur from Silicon Valley, who thought roughly the same.

Removing such a core regulation might seem appealing to business. In fact, the idea of not approving drugs for efficacy is as unwelcome to the industry as it is to doctors and patients. It spends billions of dollars every year on research to deliver better treatments; this would be impossible to justify if drugs had merely to be safe. Patients, meanwhile, would face the awful prospect of having to identify which life-saving medications worked.

So, when the name of the FDA nominee was announced in March, there was widespread relief. Scott Gottlieb (pictured) a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative…Continue reading