Former HHS Deputy Secretary Alex Azar among top contenders to replace Tom Price

Alex Azar is reportedly the top contender to replace Tom Price as secretary of the Department of Health & Human Services. (Wwsgconnect)

A new contender has emerged to replace Tom Price as Health and Human Services secretary.

Alex Azar, who served as president of Eli Lilly and Company for five years until he stepped down in January, has caught the eye of President Donald Trump, two White House officials told Politico.

UPDATED: Trump makes it official: Nominates Alex Azar to head HHS

Although other names have been considered, such as David Shulkin, secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs and Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, insiders told the publication that Trump is now set on Azar, who also served as deputy secretary of HHS under the George W. Bush administration.

If nominated and confirmed, Azar would replace Price, who resigned nearly three weeks ago following controversy over reports he spent a $1 million in taxpayer money to travel on private and government planes.

RELATED: More pharma friends in high places? Ex-Lilly boss Alex Azar up for HHS chief

In addition to his work in the pharma industry, Azar has strong connections to Eric Hargan, who is currently serving as acting secretary of HHS. The two worked together during their previous tenure at HHS under Bush.  He also was a supporter of an Indiana program developed in 2015 by Vice President Mike Pence and Verma, which provided accounts similar to health savings accounts to the poor, according to Politico.

Azar, who left Lilly to start Seraphim Strategies, LLC, a consulting firm for the biopharmaceutical and health insurance industries, has also been critical of skyrocketing drug prices, an issue that Trump promised voters he’d address during his election. But Azar also could be a powerful ally to the pharma industry, as patent protections and opioid use are also contentious issues facing the government. 

He also has the support of Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., who told IndyStar that Azar would be “well suited” to serve as HHS secretary because he understands healthcare policy and is familiar with the inner workings of the HHS.

Former HHS secretaries Michael Leavitt and Tommy Thompson told the Washington Post that Azar would be a great choice for the position. They described Azar as an experienced leader who has a deep knowledge of the healthcare industry as well as private and public service management.