President-elect Donald Trump is taking his time choosing a nominee for secretary of the US Department of Agriculture—it’s the last open Cabinet post. But the USDA isn’t the only federal agency that lacks a proposed incoming leader just a week ahead of Inauguration Day. And while candidates for the USDA post have streamed thorough Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago to plead their case, the Trump team has revealed little about whom it’s considering to head the Food and Drug Administration.
Until Thursday. Stat News reports that two Silicon Valley titans, Jim O’Neill and Balaji Srinivasan, met with Trump on January 12 to “discuss running the agency.” Neither are medical doctors or scientists—the typical backgrounds for most previous FDA commissioners. Rather, they’re tech guru-investors who espouse virulently libertarian views, including disdain for the FDA’s role in regulating the pharmaceutical industry.
O’Neill is a managing director of Mithril Capital, an investment firm founded by Peter Thiel, himself a hyperlibertarian investor and an early supporter of Trump’s candidacy. In a 2014 speech before a biotechnology group, O’Neill declared that the FDA should stop requiring drug makers to prove their products actually work—”Let’s prove efficacy after they’ve been legalized,” he said.
Srinivasan, co-founder of the bitcoin startup 21.co and a partner at the venture capital firm at Andreessen Horowitz, has opined that information technology makes the FDA role in drug regulation obsolete:
New tech also allows far better regulation than FDA. Scan a drug barcode, get 1000 worldwide MD opinions and 1 million patient self reports.
— Balaji S. Srinivasan (@balajis) March 22, 2016
Srinivasan, too, is associated with Thiel, who is an investor in Srinivasan’s bitcoin firm.
Neither Srinivasan nor O’Neill has said much publicly about the FDA’s other policy portfolio: overseeing food safety, including recently enacted rules designed to push the meat industry to rely less on antibiotics necessary for human medicine.
Trump himself has been opaque on the question of food safety regulations—though back in September, his campaign website did post, and quickly remove, a “fact sheet” denouncing the “FDA food police.”