In Rare Move, Ex-FDA Chief May Return to Post

Robert Califf ran the agency, which is handling COVID vaccines with an acting boss, under Obama
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 12, 2021 3:45 PM CST
Biden Wants Former FDA Chief Back
Robert Califf, who was then FDA commissioner, speaks at a news conference in Washington in 2016.   (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, FILE)

President Biden on Friday chose Dr. Robert Califf, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner and prominent medical researcher, to again lead the powerful regulatory agency. Califf's nomination comes after months of concern that the agency near the center of the government's COVID-19 response has lacked a permanent leader. More than a half-dozen names were floated for the job before the White House decided on Califf, the AP reports. A cardiologist and clinical trial specialist, Califf, 70, served as FDA commissioner for the last 11 months of President Barack Obama's second term.

Califf faced concerns over his drug industry connections in 2016, but he was ultimately confirmed on an 89-4 Senate vote. Before that, he spent one year as the agency's No. 2 official after more than 35 years as a researcher at Duke University, where he helped design studies for many of the world's biggest drugmakers. Since leaving government, he has worked as a policy adviser to Google, in addition to his ongoing academic work at Duke. "As the FDA considers many consequential decisions around vaccine approvals and more, it is mission critical that we have a steady, independent hand to guide the FDA," Biden said in a statement.

If confirmed, Califf would oversee decisions on COVID-19 vaccines along with a raft of other knotty issues, including the regulation of electronic cigarettes and effectiveness standards for prescription drugs. He would be the first FDA commissioner since the 1940s to return for a second stint. A former agency official said Califf is widely respected and a safe choice. "He will have broad support from FDA stakeholders," Wayne Pines said. The powerful pharmaceutical and medical device lobbying groups issued strong statements of support Friday, as did a number of physician and patient groups. Dr. Janet Woodcock, the agency’s longtime drug director, has been serving as acting commissioner since January.

(Read more Food and Drug Administration stories.)

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