FDA Commissioner: Betting Starts On Who Obama Will Pick

Barack Obama
Barack Obama

Even before the results of the election were official there was already speculation in the blogosphere about who might become the next Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration under a President Obama. And one well-known, controversial name is surfacing in at least a couple of places, so far.

So, I was eager to dial in this morning for the JPMorgan post-election conference call that I blogged about yesterday after the healthcare team there put out a research note today putting The Cleveland Clinic's Dr. Steven Nissen at the top of its short list of potential candidates. The analysts wrote, "While Steve Nissen...has lobbied for this position, we are not so sure he would pass Congressional muster in confirmation hearings since he does work closely with drug manufacturers on clinical trials. However, he is a contender."

While Dr. Nissen may have drug-study ties to pharma, he has also become a bit of a thorn in the side of the companies who believe he has gone overboard, at times, on safety issues. Dr. Nissen is a worldwide rock star in cardiovascular medicine. I interview Dr. Nissen on occasion. He's accessible, a good interview and his opinions are influential. I was looking forward to hearing the more in-depth opinions of the JPM analysts and their beltway insiders on Dr. Nissen's chances.

A few minutes before the JPM call was set to start at 11 a.m. ET, I called the number, gave them the passcode, my name and affiliation. It was all good. Then, about 15 minutes into the call an operator jumped back on my line and told me because I was a reporter I wasn't allowed to listen to the "live" call, only the taped replay later. I immediately appealed to the media relations folks at JPM and a spokesperson told me there's nothing they can do, that it's research-arm policy.

I don't get it. It is common practice for reporters to go into what's called "listen-only mode" on analyst and corporate conference calls. In other words, we don't ask questions on the calls--we just take notes on the executive/analyst commentary and the q. and a. portion. I can't see how the "live" call will give JPM clients any kind of trading leg-up in this case that would justify banning media from the call. If we're permitted to listen to the replay, why not the "live" call? If a reporter somehow gets into the question queue, then refuse to take his/her question and move on to the next one from a client. In the past I've enjoyed a very good relationship with JPM. For the last several years we have given the prominent JPMorgan Healthcare Conference a significant amount of coverage by traveling to the San Francisco event and doing live reports. Oh well.

Meantime, Dr. Nissen could soon be in the news for another reason. The annual meeting of the American Heart Association is about to begin. Researchers will be presenting the results of a big study on cholesterol drugs and their potential role in preventing heart attacks in patients who have low cholesterol. The clinical trial was done by AstraZeneca using its pill, Crestor, but many experts and analysts think the test results could have an impact on the use of all statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs). The report comes out Sunday morning at the AHA meeting in New Orleans. I'll be reporting on the findings next Monday on CNBC.

Questions? Comments? Pharma@cnbc.com