Alex Azar II, at a MIT Biotech conference in 2014 (Photo: MIT BioInnovations)

Alex Azar II, a former Wiley Rein partner who served four years as general counsel of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the leading candidate to head the department, according to several reports.

Besides the Indianapolis Star, the Washington Post and POLITICO reported Tuesday that Azar is President Donald Trump’s top choice to head HHS.

Azar served as GC and then deputy secretary of the department from 2001-2007, during the George W. Bush administration. He then took various roles at the giant drug company Eli Lilly and Co. at its U.S. headquarters in Indianapolis, according to his LinkedIn profile.

(Related: Trump’s New Acting HHS Secretary Knows the ACA)

Most recently, he served for five years as president of Eli Lilly’s U.S. operations until a management shake-up there in January. He then founded a pharmaceutical consulting firm in Indianapolis called Seraphim Strategies.

In the early 1990s, Azar, a graduate of Yale Law School, clerked for Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court. He later served as assistant independent counsel on Kenneth Starr’s Whitewater investigation. He did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Former HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson praised Azar, with whom he worked, in the POLITICO article.

“He is one of the most competent people I know,” the article quoted Thompson. “He brings terrific experience from both the private and public sector leading large and complicated organizations. He knows HHS and the career staff know and respect him.”

In several speaking engagements and on talk shows, Azar has attacked the Affordable Care Act, as has Trump. He also has been critical of high drug prices, as has Trump.

In a separate article, POLITICO’s John Carroll wrote of Azar: “He’d be viewed as a dependable and talented advocate for the [pharma] industry, someone who isn’t likely to discomfort the Big Pharma players.”

If appointed, Azar would replace Georgia Republican Tom Price, who resigned in September after POLITICO revealed he had spent more than $1 million in taxpayer money on plane travel, including $400,000 on private charter flights.

Deputy Secretary of HHS Eric Hargan has been serving as acting secretary since Price left. Azar and Hargan worked together in HHS under President George Bush.

—-Read Senate Confirms Price as Health Secretary as ACA Fight Nears on ThinkAdvisor.


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