Seasteader, drug libertarian and now FDA Commissioner? Peter Thiel backs a radical shift

Once Bloomberg broke the word that Peter Thiel associate Jim O’Neill was being considered for the top job at the FDA, reporters started to nose out the most outrageous remarks had made. And there are some doozies.

The business news service started out with the most relevant: O’Neill has called for a new system that would approve drugs that establish a baseline on safety, letting consumers sort out the efficacy side of thing.

“We should reform FDA so there is approving drugs after their sponsors have demonstrated safety — and let people start using them, at their own risk, but not much risk of safety,” O’Neill said in a speech two years ago at what was called Rejuvenation Biotechnology. “Let’s prove efficacy after they’ve been legalized.”

His own resume provides some quick hits. 1. Not a doctor. 2. Not a scientist. And he’s on the board of the Seasteading Institute, which hopes to set up floating towns free of government ineptitude.

The Yale grad got his career started as a speechwriter at Health & Human Services and was principal associate deputy secretary under the George W. Bush administration.

STAT noted sources who say that it’s Thiel — the billionaire Facebook backer who broke with Silicon Valley in supporting the president-elect — who’s promoting the libertarian for the top job at the FDA. O’Neill has worked at Thiel Capital, helmed the Thiel Foundation and now runs Thiel-backed Mithril Capital, which invested in med tech — Auris Surgical was a recent investment — that the FDA regulates.

Among his many involvements in the R&D field, O’Neill is on the board at SENS Research Foundation, which is focused on aging R&D. And his 2014 speech included a claim that ongoing research would make it possible to achieve human immortality in 40 years, according to BioCentury. His bio at SENS includes a note that he was on the steering committee at BARDA.

But now that word is out about his possible selection, his digital resume is starting to disappear. STAT notes that a speech has gone missing overnight.

You can still hear him talk about seasteading here.

He’s no shoe in. Scott Gottlieb has long been considered a kind of Republican shadow commissioner for the FDA, and remains one of the most frequently cited candidates for the post.

Since the election Trump has made two points related to biotechnology. He wants drug approvals to come faster and he wants drug prices to come down. There hasn’t been a word yet about how he plans to accomplish the lower drug prices, but the 21st Century Cures Act passage yesterday gives him some early boasts to tout.

We’ll find out soon if his ideas about radical change in government extend to the top job at the FDA.

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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
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Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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