Balaji S Srinivasan may join Trump's team – Economic Times

MUMBAI: Balaji S Srinivasan, or BSS as he calls himself on his personal blog, is the founder of two early-stage Silicon Valley startups: bitcoin payments company 21 Inc and Counsyl, which helps determine Down syndrome in unborn babies. BSS, who in a 2013 YouTube video says his dad had left India because the country “was an economic basket case,” has been in news for the past two days for being a potential candidate to take up the top job at the US food and drug regulator.

The pharma world is surprised by this possible choice as President-elect Donald Trump gets ready to induct his team in Washington’s top positions. He isn’t a medical doctor, which most Food and Drug Administration (FDA) chiefs were. The current commissioner, Robert Califf, is a cardiologist.

But Trump is also expected to make unconventional moves. Another candidate said to be considered for the post, James O’Neill, is also not a medical doctor. He is a managing director at Mithril Capital Management, an investment firm.

Balaji S Srinivasan may join Trump's team Srinivasan is a Silicon Valley evangelist with a doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford University , where he was also teaching data mining, statistics and computational biology. His past comments on social media suggest he is not a big fan of regulators.

As soon as Srinivasan’s meeting with Trump went public, he deleted his old tweets that were critical of the USFDA. His personal blogs were also cleaned up. However, a 2013 YouTube video, which is undeleted, suggests that he is an advocate of minimal government interference.

“I believe the ability to reduce the importance of decisions made in DC without lobbying and sloganeering is actually going to become extremely important over the next 10 years,” Srinivasan says in the speech to the Start Up School. In the speech titled ‘Exit’, he talks about giving tools to people to “opt out” – that would reduce the influence of bad policies over their lives without getting involved in politics.

Srinivasan did not respond to an email sent by ET seeking comment.

“If chosen to head the FDA, it would certainly be an unconventional choice, as Srinivasan’s views on FDA have been radical where he has considered FDA as a blocker of innovation,” said Arsalan Arif, publisher of biotech news site Endpoints News.Though his appointment is still a speculative issue, his closeness to Peter Thiel (an investor in Srinivasan’s startup and a Trump aide) might help him get the job.

Contrary to beliefs, even drug companies do not want a weak FDA, Arif said. “If that would be the case, we would have less innovative drugs coming up.”

For Indian generic drug companies that have been facing heat from the USFDA over the regulatory issues say that it is immune to the fact about who heads the organisation.

“The US is concerned about quality, affordable, medicines and none can beat India (on that). We can continue to be a dependable and trustworthy partner for access to affordable and quality medicines,” said DG Shah of the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance a lobby group of leading Indian generic makers. “If anything, the FDA would be looked up to clear backlog of pending applications,” he added.

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