But his critics cite his ties to the drug industry and his role at New Enterprise Associates, which bills itself as the world's largest venture capital firm. It invests heavily in medical technology and healthcare companies.
They seized on the opioid crisis as Gottlieb's potential weak spot.
"Trump's nominee to be the next FDA commissioner, Dr. Gottlieb, is entangled in an unprecedented web of close financial and business ties to the pharmaceutical industry and was no doubt chosen because he is well-suited to carry out the president's reckless, ill-informed vision for deregulating the FDA's review and approval process for prescription medications, including opioids," Dr. Michael Carome, director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group, told reporters on a conference call.
"Dr. Gottlieb has had a cozy relationship with big drug companies for decades," added Sherrod Brown, a Democratic senator from Ohio. "He has supported allowing those same companies to rush their drugs — including potentially addictive opioid painkillers — onto the market before we're sure that they're safe," Brown added.
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Republican senators, however, used the hearing to lavishly praise Gottlieb. "I just want to compliment you," Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch said. "You have had a wealth of experience," he added.
The HELP committee chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), said Gottlieb's experience should be an asset to the giant agency, which oversees approval of new drugs, medical devices and biological products; regulates food safety; and supervises some tobacco product marketing.
Gottlieb has said that if confirmed as FDA commissioner, he'd stay away for a year from decisions involving nearly two dozen companies he has been involved with, would divest himself of medical company stocks and would resign from his other positions. And he said he'd make the opioid crisis a major focus of the agency's efforts.
"I think this is a public health emergency on the order of Ebola and Zika," Gottlieb said at the hearing.
The opioid epidemic has the attention of Congress, Trump, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and public health experts, with deaths hitting a new high each year.
Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, a Democrat, says the FDA has done too little to control opioid misuse.
"For years, the FDA has granted unfettered access to Big Pharma and its addictive opioid painkillers to the American public," Markey told reporters in a teleconference.
"The result is a prescription drug, heroin and fentanyl epidemic of tragic proportions and the greatest public health crisis our nation currently faces," Markey added. "At a time when we need its leader to break the stronghold of big pharmaceutical companies on the FDA, Dr. Scott Gottlieb will not do the job."
But Gottlieb agreed the FDA had acted too slowly to address the overuse of opioids to treat pain.