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Investors get dose of government shutdown as FDA chief delivers keynote via video call, loses audio

Attendees at the annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, the industry’s largest annual event, unexpectedly got a taste of the government shutdown Tuesday.

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Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s keynote address was delivered via video conference from a meeting room in Washington, D.C., to thousands of investment bankers and health-care executives, and his audio cut out altogether just as he was making a key point on teen nicotine use. The four-day meeting, now in its 37th year, drew more than 9,000 to the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco this year.

“If we see another rise of 30 or 40 percent in youth tobacco use, I think this is an existential threat to the whole product segment. And I think a tolerance to these products will not only … ” Gottlieb said just before his audio failed for about 30 seconds. It sent chuckles through the packed overflow room as Gottlieb continued speaking, unaware that no one could hear him.

When the audio did reconnect, the sound quality created an echo in the room that made it difficult for some attendees to understand what he was saying.

Gottlieb was originally scheduled to attend the conference in person, but changed plans after the government shutdown extended into its second week.

Gottlieb also promoted innovation and competition in order to lower drug prices. He stuck to these points when asked about the Trump administration’s thoughts on drug prices, saying he would leave topics that fall outside his duties as head of the FDA for others to comment on.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly called for drug companies to lower prices. Two years ago, Trump accused drugmakers of “getting away with murder” while industry leaders met at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference.