FiercePharmaPolitics—Trump denies considering removal of HHS chief Azar

Alex Azar
Alex Azar has served as chief of the Department of Health and Human Services since early 2018. (C-SPAN)

Welcome to the FiercePharma political roundup, where each Monday we’ll highlight developments in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere that could affect drug pricing and how drugmakers operate.

Amid escalating frustration, the Trump administration has engaged in in discussions to remove Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) chief Alex Azar from his post, The Wall Street Journal reported this weekend. Responding on Twitter, the president rejected the report as “fake news.”

Citing six sources, the WSJ said the Trump administration’s discussions about Azar had intensified in recent weeks, but the president could still go either way on Azar’s fate. The report followed another from the newspaper that centered on early “missteps” by the HHS chief as the novel coronavirus spread.

Both Trump and Azar took to Twitter Sunday to deny the report and defend the administration’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.

“While the #FakeNews media and their leaker allies collude to destroy this President, his Administration is following his leadership 24/7 to protect Americans and end a global health crisis,” Azar added in a folllow-up tweet

The president’s frustrations with Azar have spanned e-cigarettes, drug pricing and the COVID-19 pandemic, the Journal reported. In late January, the HHS chief called Trump to brief the president on the COVID-19 outbreak, and, on the call, the president criticized the HHS chief's handling of e-cigarettes, the newspaper reports.

Plus, recent headlines about the transfer of former Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority head Rick Bright to another agency triggered unease, the Journal reported. Azar framed Bright’s transfer to a new job at the National Institutes of Health as a promotion, but Bright himself blasted the move and called for an investigation. 

RELATED: Ex-BARDA chief decries science taking back seat to politics, demands investigation into Trump administration 

Azar, a former Eli Lilly executive, won Trump’s nomination for HHS chief in November 2017. He replaced Tom Price, who resigned over a travel scandal. Azar has been active on drug prices during his time in the agency, notably targeting payer rebates for elimination. 

Seema Verma, who heads up the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, has been considered as a potential replacement, the Journal reports.