Senate panel advances FDA nominee

Senate panel advances FDA nominee
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The Senate Health committee on Tuesday advanced to the full Senate the nomination of Dr. Robert Califf to be commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. 

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Califf, a cardiologist and longtime Duke University researcher, joined the FDA as a deputy commissioner in February. 

He has had relatively smooth sailing in the confirmation process and received praise from both sides of the aisle on Tuesday. 

Chairman Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderWeek ahead: Senators near deal to stabilize ObamaCare markets Corker pressed as reelection challenges mount Overnight Health Care: CBO predicts 15 percent ObamaCare premium hike | Trump calls Sanders single-payer plan ‘curse on the US’ | Republican seeks score of Sanders’s bill MORE (R-Tenn.) touted Califf's “impressive” qualifications and noted that having a confirmed head of the FDA is important at a time when so much “exciting science” and possible new medical breakthroughs are happening.

What blowback Califf has received came from the left.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill Dems fear lasting damage from Clinton-Sanders fight MORE (I-Vt.), a presidential candidate, previously announced he will oppose the nomination, saying that Califf’s ties to the drug industry are too tight. Califf faced some scrutiny over industry-funded studies while at Duke. 

“His extensive ties to the pharmaceutical industry give me no reason to believe that he would make the FDA work for ordinary Americans,” Sanders said in a statement on Tuesday after voting against the nomination by proxy. 

However, Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayWeek ahead: Senators near deal to stabilize ObamaCare markets Policymaking commission offers a glimmer of hope in hyper-partisan Washington Dems call on DeVos to work with CFPB to protect student borrowers MORE (Wash.), the committee’s top Democrat, on Tuesday defended Califf and applauded his “commitment to transparency in relationships with industry.”

Califf's nomination comes as the FDA is in the spotlight. The health panel is working on companion legislation to the House-passed 21st Century Cures Act, which aims to speed up the agency's approval process for new drugs and boost funding medical research. 

Alexander last year said that the committee would finish its work on the bill by the end of 2015, but the panel has not released a bill, much less advanced it to the full Senate.

Still, Alexander said Tuesday that it is a priority in the new year. “We should finish our work on this bill, and I’m committed to doing it in a bipartisan way that allows amendments,” he said. 

Controversy over high drug prices is also intensifying. Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseJuan Williams: Momentum builds against gerrymandering Overnight Regulation: FTC launches probe into Equifax | Dems propose tougher data security rules | NYC aims to slash greenhouse gas emissions | EPA to reconsider Obama coal ash rule Overnight Cybersecurity: Kaspersky to testify before House | US sanctions Iranians over cyberattacks | Equifax reveals flaw that led to hack MORE (D-R.I.) called for action to deal with drug companies that hike the prices for drugs that have little competition, often because they treat rare diseases. Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Ryan: Graham-Cassidy 'best, last chance' to repeal ObamaCare Collins skeptical of new ObamaCare repeal effort MORE (R-Maine) has also been tackling the issue with a Senate Aging Committee investigation.

One speed bump in the way of Califf’s nomination could be concerns from Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Collins skeptical of new ObamaCare repeal effort How Senate relationships could decide ObamaCare repeal MORE (R-Alaska) over the FDA’s approval of genetically modified salmon as food. 

She said Tuesday that she will push for clear labeling guidelines so consumers are aware that the fish is genetically modified. 

Alexander, though, responded that he wants the full Senate to confirm Califf soon.

“If there are issues, I hope those conversations can be speedy,” he said.