The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday unanimously approved former Eli Lilly CEO Randall Tobias to head the new State Department office to head the five-year, $15 billion global AIDS initiative, the Indianapolis Star reports. His nomination now goes to the full Senate, which was expected to vote on the appointment as early as Friday. As coordinator of the global AIDS initiative, Tobias will be able to distribute U.S. funds directly to nongovernmental organizations and to transfer funds between government agencies.
Tobias's nomination was opposed by AIDS activists, who worried that his ties to the pharmaceutical industry could serve as a conflict of interest and that he might use his influence to purchase more expensive anti-HIV drugs to help boost the profits at U.S. drug companies. Tobias owns stock in several drug companies and serves on the board of directors for Eli Lilly. In confirmation hearings with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tobias said he would step down from his board position and sell his stock in every drug company except Eli Lilly, which does not make any anti-HIV medications. He also said his experience in the pharmaceutical industry would help him to negotiate cheaper prices on anti-HIV drugs for developing countries.