Senate panel to vote on FDA nominee next week

Senate panel to vote on FDA nominee next week
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The Senate health committee will vote next Tuesday on President Obama’s nominee to be commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. 

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The nominee, Dr. Robert Califf, is a cardiologist and longtime Duke University researcher who joined the FDA as a deputy commissioner in February. He has received praise from Chairman Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Finance: Trump says shutdown 'could happen' | Ryan, conservatives inch closer to spending deal | Senate approves motion to go to tax conference | Ryan promises 'entitlement reform' in 2018 Senate approves motion to go to tax conference House conservatives, Ryan inch closer toward spending deal MORE (R-Tenn.) and is expected to have relatively smooth sailing. 

He has received blowback from the left, though, over concerns that his ties with drug companies are too tight. Califf was a consultant for drug companies and has done research funded by the industry. 

In October, Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersSchumer: Franken should resign Franken resignation could upend Minnesota races Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign MORE (I-Vt.) announced he would oppose the nomination. “We need a new leader at the FDA who is prepared to stand up to the pharmaceutical companies and work to substantially lower drug prices,” Sanders said in a statement. “Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that Dr. Califf is not that person.”

At a confirmation hearing in November, Califf defended his research while at Duke. “Yes, the industry funds the studies,” he said. “But we have an independent voice guaranteed by a contract.”

The nomination comes at a time when the FDA is in the spotlight over the issue of high drug prices. 

Alexander’s committee is pivoting early this year to try to finish up work on a bipartisan medical innovation bill, a companion to the House-passed 21st Century Cures measure, that seeks to speed up the FDA’s approval process for new drugs. Some Republicans portray that effort as a way to increase competition and lower prices by getting more drugs to market. 

For Democrats, the innovation bill is not enough, and they also want more far-reaching proposals like allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices down.