Senate Panel Unanimously Advances Califf Nomination for FDA Head

Robert Califf, MD, just unanimously won the Senate panel vote for advance his nomination for FDA commissioner. Now the nomination goes to the full Senate.

Robert Califf, MD, has passed the first hurdle to being confirmed as the next FDA commissioner. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee voted unanimously to approve the cardiologist and now the nomination will go to the full Senate for approval.

“The FDA affects every single American almost every single day,” Chairman Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said. “It’s vital that we have the right person leading that agency and that it have a confirmed leader.”

President Obama had nominated Dr Califf for the position in September 2015, following months of speculation that began when Margaret Hamburg, MD, stepped down in February. Dr Califf was appointed the deputy commissioner for medical products and tobacco at the FDA 1 year ago.

Prior to joining the FDA, Dr Califf had spent most of his career in academia, but also had some experience with the agency having served on the agency's Cardiorenal Advisory Panel from 1996 to 2000 and its Science Board Working Group from 2007 to 2008.

"The FDA is an agency that touches the lives of every American every day and has challenges that the next commission is going to face,” Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) said. “I believe Dr Califf has the ability to lead that agency as it has been lead so prominently in the past.”

While Dr Califf’s nomination was largely supported—for instance, by the American Society of Clinical Oncology—shortly after he was nominated to head the FDA, concerns surfaced over his ties to the pharmaceutical industry. He has coauthored research papers with scientists from drug companies, consulted for drug companies, and his salary at Duke University was partially supported by industry funding.

Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) had said he would oppose the nomination for those reasons; however, he was a no-show at the committee vote.

However, while the vote to confirm Dr Califf was unanimous, concerns were raised by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). What worried her was that despite have discussions with Dr Califf over her concerns of allowing genetically engineered fish for human consumption, the FDA approved genetically engineered fish for food use. As such, she noted concerns about the direction of the FDA. After the vote Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) echoed what Murkowski had brought up and that they do need to be considered later.

Although Dr Califf has been confirmed by the panel, it is unknown when his confirmation will go to a full floor vote as one senator has a hold on all HHS nominations, reported POLITICO.