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. 

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 AlexanderLamar AlexanderSenate panel rejects Trump funding cuts on Energy Department programs Governors-turned-senators meet to talk healthcare With healthcare bill derailed, GOP wonders: What now? 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 SandersBernie SandersSanders keeping door open on 2020 Parliamentarian deals setback to GOP repeal bill OPINION | Hey Dems, Russia won't define 2018, so why not fix your party's problems instead? 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.