Pick the Commish: Voters narrow down to final 2 candidates—Abernethy and Gottlieb

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Final voting for the incoming FDA commissioner is now underway. Choose the best man or woman for the job and let us know why.(Getty Images)

Fierce Pharma’s search for a voter-crowned FDA commissioner nominee has reached the final matchup as only former FDA chief Scott Gottlieb and current principal deputy chief Amy Abernethy remain.

Voting was tight among the final four, with many readers chiming in earnestly for their favorite picks. Most noted the choices were difficult among four very qualified candidates.

While Hamburg got fewer votes than Gottlieb in their matchup, voters championed her skills and diversity.

“Peggy has the leadership skills necessary and is also good at connecting on a personal level (I was on a panel with her). Scott is very qualified, but things being equal I won't pick a white male over a minority woman. We need diverse representation at all levels of government, including leadership,” one wrote.

Throughout two weeks of reader voting, Gottlieb has inspired some of the most passionate arguments—in part because he was a President Trump pick, which some note may be a notch against him with incoming President Joe Biden.

Commenters acknowledged that hurdle, such as this note about Gottlieb: “Unusual choice by Biden, but such a strong scientific advocate during Covid, might reinvigorate the agency (and related federal bodies). Currently has no constraints as not part of the formal bureaucracy.”

Another reader wrote that Gottlieb has “proven himself to be beyond politics, which is precisely what this country needs right now! I personally believe that he was the best FDA commissioner I've seen in my 35 years in pharma.”

On the other side of the bracket, the voting was also very close between Abernethy and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute CEO Laurie Glimcher, with Abernethy's insider experience ending up being the deciding factor.

“Both would be excellent choices, but Amy Abernethy's FDA specific experience is critical in the current situation," a reader wrote. "She can bring credibility back to the FDA while also managing its vast bureaucracy."

Friends chimed in as well for Abernethy: “Amy—a close friend and mentor—has the right sense of where the FDA needs to head," one wrote. "Her world-class expertise in real-world evidence coupled with her patient-always-first focus sets us up to embark on a future where feedback loops from the real world enhance and accelerate progress in care.”

For the finals, vote here to choose the winner. We’ll be back on Monday to reveal the Fierce Pharma voter choice to be the Biden administration FDA commissioner.

Scott Gottlieb, the former FDA commissioner under Trump for almost two years, would be a tried-and-true pick, and stability wouldn’t be the worst thing for the U.S. drug industry right now. The ex-commissioner has been outspoken during the pandemic, albeit quite politely, in noting administration missteps, but has also fiercely defended the integrity of the FDA. On the other hand, Gottlieb now serves on the Pfizer board and is considered pharma-friendly, while Biden may be looking to distance himself from the industry.


Amy Abernethy, an oncologist and palliative medicine physician, has served as principal deputy director and second-in-command at the FDA since 2018. She also serves as the FDA’s acting chief information officer, a potentially key set of skills as data and technology take center stage in everyday life and health. She's also familiar with the pharma industry, serving as chief medical officer of Flatiron Health before and after Roche’s acquisition of the cancer and real-world data software developer.