Grassley chucks his role as pharma gadfly

Dancing in the streets yet? If you're not, then you haven't heard that Sen. Charles Grassley, the perpetual thorn in pharma's side, looks to be stepping down from his post as chief of the Senate Finance Committee. He's planning to move to Senate Judiciary instead, where the top Republican post was abandoned by Sen. Arlen Specter, a newly minted Democrat.

If the word on Grassley is true, then pharma may be able to say sayonara to the steady flow of letters from Grassley, who demanded answers on a plethora of industry issues, from drugmakers' relationships with prominent doctors and academic researchers to a host of drug safety questions. Grassley challenged Pfizer to determine whether artificial-heart pioneer and Lipitor spokesman Robert Jarvik was really a doctor--or even qualified to play one on TV. And he asked so many questions about DTC ads for the cholesterol med Vytorin that Merck and Schering-Plough simply took the commercials off the air to stop the flurry of mail.

FDAers will probably dance with pharma folks on this one, because Grassley has been no less critical of the agency that regulates the drugmakers. Under Grassley's microscope, the FDA became an agency the public loved to question. The Senator castigated FDA for bungling foreign inspections of Chinese heparin plants and raked the agency's safety types over the coals for one drug scandal after another, from SSRIs to GlaxoSmithKline's diabetes remedy Avandia to Amgen's blockbuster anemia meds Epogen and Aranesp.

Also joining the dance: two prominent psychiatrists whose research changed medicine's approach to drugs for mental illness, Joseph Biederman of Harvard and Charles Nemeroff (photo) of Emory. The two docs got the Grassley treatment for taking thousands upon thousands from drugmakers whose products they researched, sometimes without reporting the receipts to their university overseers.

Indeed, the Wall Street Journal Health Blog reports that FDA staffers were exchanging high-fives on the news, and pharma companies are calling their lobbyists to make sure the "good news" is true. It can't be long before the dance music cranks up.

- read the Health Blog post