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Name: Astrue, Michael
Current Position: Former Commissioner
A native of New Jersey, Michael J. Astrue has served as the Commissioner of Social Security since February 12, 2007.  His six-year term expires on January 19, 2013.
Astrue received his bachelor’s degree from Yale University. He then moved to Washington, DC, to work for US Sen. Richard Schweiker (R-PA) before attending Harvard Law School, where he received his JD.
Astrue clerked for US District Court Judge Walter J. Skinner before going to work for the Boston firm of Ropes & Gray. A year later he returned to Washington to serve as a deputy assistant secretary within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and then counselor to the commissioner of the Social Security Administration from 1981 to 1989. He later rose to general counsel of HHS. While serving as general counsel, Astrue tried the first HIV discrimination case. He won the case against the hospital, Westchester County Medical Center, which had disclosed to a prospective employer that a job applicant had the virus.
During the transitional year 1988-89 between the Reagan and Bush administrations, Astrue served as associate counsel to the President. Briefly, he also was commissioned as the White House ethics officer at the time of the Iran-Contra affair. He also helped draft the operations plan for the incapacitation of the president, and he did background checks on cabinet appointees.
During the 1990s, Astrue worked in the biotechnology industry. He served as general counsel for Cambridge-based Biogen Inc., before moving to Transkaryotic Therapies Inc. (TKT), a biotechnology firm that develops gene therapy products for common and rare diseases. He handled two high-profile patent infringement cases. One was with biotech giant Amgen Inc. over TKT’s erythropoietin drug Dynepo. A judge ruled that TKT infringed on eight of the 18 claims made by Amgen. The other case was with Genzyme Corp. over TKT’s drug Replagal to treat Fabry disease. Eventually, Astrue took over the leadership of TKT, serving as president and CEO.
In October 2001, Astrue was the favorite to win nomination to be commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, but withdrew his name after opposition from several Democratic Senators including his home-state senator, Edward Kennedy, who objected to Astrue’s strong ties to the pharmaceutical industry.
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